When the U.S. Civil Rights Act was passed in1964, the problem of American obesity was nowhere near what it is fifty years later. As a result, there are no provenances in the landmark document that govern weight discrimination in the workplace.(1)
A Yale University Study found that more than half of the women polled had experienced some sort of weight discrimination in the workplace.(2) Such discrimination is defined as a woman (or man) being passed over for a job, promotion, or other work-related opportunity because of their physical weight.
Until federal law guidelines for the workplace catch up to this growing problem and other states catch up to the lead of Michigan, the first state to pass legislation in 1977 banning weight discrimination in the workplace, the options for those targeted in this fashion are limited. An arcane option is for plaintiffs to try and file a complaint through the American Disabilities Act of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But because the letter of that law is not specifically written for weight discrimination scenarios, chances of success are limited.
Need for Legislation
In the state of New Jersey, ABC-TV news program 20/20 recently used hidden cameras to enact weight discrimination scenarios towards job applicants at a local health food store.(3) Some were passive and others more aggressive as they were told by the store manager that their appearance and presence in the workplace might turn off customers.
In a capitalist society, many professional tiers – especially those that involve customer service – are anchored to decades-long unspoken weight and appearance biases.(4) Health clubs, airlines, and other employers may tend, without ever admitting to it, towards thinner, slimmer applicants. Until the paper thin U.S. legislation catches up to the tremendous problem of workplace weight discrimination, there is unfortunately often little a victim can do.
USA TODAY – “Weight Discrimination Could Be As Common as Racial Bias,” May 21, 2008, Retrieved May 3, 2011 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2008-05-20-overweight-bias_N.htm
MSNBC – “Fat Chance: It’s Not Easy for Obese Workers”, January 1, 2007, Retrieved May 3, 2011 from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16755130/ns/business-careers/
ABC News – What Would You Do?, April 8, 2011, Retrieved May 3, 2011 from http://abcnews.go.com/WhatWouldYouDo/fat-work-health-food-store/story?id=13317868
New York Daily News – “Many Workplace Hiring Decisions Are Unfair, But That Doesn’t Make Them Discriminaory”, April 8, 2011, Retrieved May 3, 2011 from http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-04-08/news/29412404_1_personal-trainer-employers-practices