- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

MEXICO CITY — A recent help-wanted ad in a Mexico City daily for a sales job in the construction industry featured a European-looking man in a business suit clutching a cell phone and made it clear that men — only men — between 25 and 35 should bother to apply.

On the same page, Office Depot of Mexico advertised for assistant store managers, male or female, as long as they were no younger than 26 and no older than 38 and “preferably married.”

“It is useless to apply if one doesn’t meet the requirements,” the Office Depot ad warned.

In Mexico, by flipping through newspapers, scrolling Web sites and glancing at handwritten signs posted on shop fronts, it is clear that employers have no qualms about telling job candidates that they must be of a certain age, sex, civil status and even, in a country where many are petite, taller than a certain height.

Mexico’s 1917 Constitution strictly forbids such discrimination, and more anti-bias laws have been approved since then, one as recently as last year by President Vicente Fox.

Yet reality, as is often the case in Mexico, does not conform to what is inscribed in government archives.

Help-wanted ads in newspapers for everything from secretaries to shopkeepers routinely require that female applicants be between certain ages — say 20 and 30, or 18 and 23 — and submit photos to prove they are blessed with a “nice appearance.”

Many ads specify that job candidates be married — presumably they are more stable — or single, the assumption being that they have no children to interfere with work hours. One ad even required applicants to own their homes.

Even a national jobs Web site set up by Mr. Fox’s administration allows private employers the choice of declaring their preferences for applicants’ sex, age or marital status.

A mechanical engineer’s position for Mexico Diesel is listed on the site, seeking a man between 26 and 40.

“It’s horrible. It’s frightening. This is a violation of the constitution that is indisputable. And what’s remarkable to me about this is that nothing is ever done about it,” said Raul Carranca y Rivas, a constitutional lawyer and professor at the Mexican National Autonomous University.

Mr. Carranca y Rivas said Mexican law could be used to obtain a court order prohibiting an employer from openly discriminating in hiring. But he cannot remember a person or any of the human rights groups that abound in Mexico ever trying to do that.

One explanation for the passivity is that Mexico is always an employer’s market, with a surplus of millions of underemployed workers.

The high tolerance for discrimination also is rooted in modern Mexico’s colonial origins and the presumption of European superiority, said Gilberto Rincon Gallardo, the Fox-appointed director of Mexico’s new National Council to Prevent Discrimination.

“The words ‘nice appearance’ often have certain implications about color or a physical type. Look at the soap operas. The people look like they are French or Dutch, not your average Mexican,” said Mr. Rincon Gallardo, who was born with short arms and has become a champion of the rights of the disabled in Mexico.

Those who spoke out against discrimination were “voices in the wilderness” until just a few years ago, about the time that Mr. Fox was elected in 2000 and the country started to shake off 71 years of one-party rule that stifled democratic evolution.

The former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s official line was that Mexico was a proud, mixed-blood nation and that discrimination was something that occurred in the United States more than in Mexico.

But a sneering attitude toward Indians still prevails, Mr. Rincon Gallardo said, although it is not acceptable to display such a bias in job ads.

Age limits and sex restrictions are another matter.

“If you are over 45, it’s almost impossible to get a new job here,” Mr. Rincon Gallardo said. “Laws don’t change a culture and the habits of an entire lifetime.”

The anti-discrimination council recently began mediation efforts to resolve discrimination complaints. Among the more than 30 complaints that the council has received is one from a Mexican bank employee who was fired after he was injured and ended up in a wheelchair.

At a recent city-sponsored job fair in Mexico City, job seekers vented frustration at being made to feel as if they are washed up at 35 or 40, when they feel like they are still in their prime.

“I don’t feel old. I feel like I have a lot to offer still. But even if you ignore what the ads say and go in with a really positive attitude, they won’t call you,” said Salvador Jimenez, a computer-information technician who was laid off in September from a job he held since 1982. He just turned 40.

Maria Figueroa Tejada, a 42-year-old dentist, has resorted to treating people off the books in her home. She has not found a real job since she was forced to close the small clinic she ran in a family-owned building that was sold several years ago.

“In spite of your long experience, age just doesn’t help you,” she said.

Discrimination is so ingrained in Mexico that employers seem caught off-guard when asked about it.

A personnel director at Office Depot in Mexico said the company’s “information is confidential,” and declined to explain why the store insists that job candidates be of a certain age and married.

A company called Magnetic Cash that sells video and computer games recently advertised to fill telemarketing and floor sales jobs. Candidates were restricted to applicants between 22 and 35.

“We are against discrimination,” said manager Carla Camacho. “If we are looking for young people, it’s only because our products are directed at a young public.”

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