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Wait! What About Customer-Based Subtle Discrimination?

  • Juan M. Madera (a1), Lindsey Lee (a1) and Camille E. Kapoor (a1)


In the focal article, Jones, Arena, Nittrouer, Alonso, and Lindsey (2017) provide a review and a conceptual framework for examining subtle discrimination in the workplace. The focal article, however, mainly focuses on subtle discrimination that occurs among coworkers and only mentions customers once. The current commentary delves deeper into this notion and extends their framework by focusing on customer-based subtle discrimination. We mainly focus on research from the service industry, in part because the service industry is the largest industry in the United States, employing more than half of all employees in the United States (Lopez, 2010), and because the service industry involves frequent customer interactions. Whether it is a server in a restaurant, a front-desk clerk at a hotel, a flight attendant on a plane, or an attendant in a retail store, stigmatized service employees often face subtle discrimination. Consistent with the focal article, we argue that the subtle discrimination faced by service employees can be both interpersonal (e.g., rudeness directed toward a stigmatized service employee) and formal (e.g., a lower tip for a stigmatized service employee). The purpose of this commentary is to highlight the research on subtle discrimination by customers, focusing on a discussion of the reasons why stigmatized service employees are particularly vulnerable to subtle discrimination from customers during service encounters.


Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Juan M. Madera, Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston, 229 C. N. Hilton Hotel and College, Houston, TX 77204-3028. E-mail:


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Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • ISSN: 1754-9426
  • EISSN: 1754-9434
  • URL: /core/journals/industrial-and-organizational-psychology
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