Discrimination on the basis of weight is rampant in society. Yet only one state, Michigan, explicitly prohibits weight-based discrimination. Two other states, Massachusetts and New York, are currently considering bills that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of weight.
Meanwhile, approximately 41.9% of adults in the United States are obese, and research indicates that overweight and obese people experience workplace discrimination in the form of stereotypes that they are lazy, unmotivated, and less competent.
To the extent obesity is experienced as a disability, obese individuals can find protection from discrimination under federal disability law.
Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of a disability, defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, breathing, and working.
Some federal courts—like the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern District of Louisiana, and Northern District of Mississippi—have interpreted the ADA and Rehabilitation Act to protect employees from weight-based discrimination. So, until there is uniform federal legislation proscribing weight-based discrimination in all 50 states, employees should look to federal disability law as a potential avenue for legal redress against weight-based discrimination.
If you have been discriminated against at work on the basis of your weight, you should consult with an attorney to determine what your legal options are. Sanford Heisler Sharp has experienced weight discrimination lawyers in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Baltimore, San Diego, Nashville, and Atlanta. For more information about your rights and our legal services, contact us online now.