Obesity and Employment Discrimination

January 20, 2020

Statistics show that one-third of Americans are officially obese, as defined by the body mass index charts. In fact, almost 40 percent of Americans meet the definition of obesity. While protections exist for other types of discrimination, no specific federal law exists to protect employees from discrimination based on their weight.

What is Weight Discrimination?

Weight discrimination is also known as size discrimination, and it occurs when someone is treated differently due to their weight. The primary federal law that addresses discrimination (Title VII) does not specifically include obesity as a protected characteristic. Therefore, employers may legally discriminate against someone based on their weight.

How Common is Weight Discrimination?

In recent studies, weight discrimination appears to be just as prevalent as race and age discrimination. In fact, weight discrimination was more prevalent than other types of discrimination such as those due to sexual orientation or physical disability. Additionally, women appear to fare worse and are discriminated against at higher rates than men with obesity. Statistics show that 93% of employers would choose an applicant of “normal weight” over an equally qualified obese applicant. Additionally, obese women earn $9,000 a year less than their normal-weight counterparts and very obese women earn $19,000 a year less than their normal-weight counterparts. Clearly, weight discrimination is rampant and has little to no repercussions legally.

Is Obesity a Disability?

The Americans With Disabilities Act protects employees (and applicants) that have a disability from any type of discrimination in the workplace. In fact, employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities. Obesity, however, has never been determined to be a disability for legal purposes. However, in some circumstances, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has shown that there are cases where obesity, under specific situations, may qualify as a disability. The following are ways that obesity could be classified as a disability and protected under the law.

  • The person has an underlying physiological impairment (diabetes, medication, etc.) that has resulted in obesity.
  • The person has “severe” obesity, which is defined as a bodyweight twice that of a healthy normal person of their height and age.
  • An employer simply perceives the person as having a disability based on their obesity and independently affords them the protections under the ADA.

Unfortunately, only a few cases based on weight-based discrimination have been successful, and without legislation to support them, it appears that those who suffer from obesity may continue to face discrimination in and out of the workplace. In fact, Michigan is the only state that has specifically outlawed employment discrimination based on weight in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.

Contact an Experienced Employee Attorney Today

You have the right to be free from discrimination as an applicant or an employee of the workplace. If you feel you have been discriminated against in any way due to your weight, contact an employment lawyer at the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak at 415-263-9015 or 415-693-0393 or online today to help you understand your rights and help you build your discrimination case.

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