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Ponderer983's avatar

Should weight be a determining factor for being a protected class in anti-discrimination laws?

Asked by Ponderer983 (6396 points ) July 9th, 2012

Let’s not get into a debate about the many issues surround weight in the world and how people should be healthier, etc. I am really interested in your thoughts about protecting this class of people from discrimination (whether it be overweight or underweight). It happens more than most would like to admit, so I wonder if it should be added. Remember, there are people who are either over or under weight because of medical reasons/conditions and not because they are just “fat” or “anorexic looking.” If the color of my skin is protected, why shouldn’t the size of it be as well?

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22 Answers

woodcutter's avatar

It could be a double edged sword if morbidly obese people become recognized as a protected segment because if one of them falls on you they may be prosecuted more easily because of their weight was a contributing factor in causing more severe injuries to their victims. Just a thought.

the color of your skin is protected? how so? Is it valuable in some way?

bewailknot's avatar

Weight discrimination is illegal in Michigan, USA. For employment purposes you might be able to cover weight if it was a “perceived disability” whether it created any actual disability or not. People tend to see obesity as self created, no matter what the cause.

gorillapaws's avatar

I can see an argument for it being a disability. For some people, it’s not easily within their control because it can be related to medications they’re on, or health conditions they have, not to mention there is certainly a large genetic component to weight. But even if it’s within their control, it could still be considered a disability if it interfered with normal life activities. Smokers often need oxygen when they’re older, and we wouldn’t say they’re not disabled based on the fact that their condition was preventable.

ETpro's avatar

You’d have to be careful about crafting such a law. Would you hire someone who is morbidly obese as a weight loss instructor? What if they had to do roofing, and would fall through the plywood sheeting on a roof? How about airlines charging people for two seats when that’s what they actually require? Should an anorexic have a shot as a sumo wrestler, a bouncer, a football fullback or defensive lineman?

funkdaddy's avatar

I don’t think it’s possible to answer the question without getting into the surrounding issues. So I want to say I’m not for discriminating against people for any generalized reason. People’s abilities and character never follow a single characteristic.

For me, there would three big questions before you make weight protected

> What percentage of people truly have no choice over the size and shape of their bodies? 100% of people have no control of their skin color (lumping race, nationality, etc. all together), no one chooses their age, 99% never chose their sex, no one elects to be disabled, and it’s unreasonable to consider sexual orientation a choice at this point for most. Religion I believe we can agree is a different matter. Is there really another protected class that is comparable to weight?

> Is weight being used to discriminate against people in a way that is unfair? Are they denied access to facilities or jobs they are the best candidate for? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just that I don’t know. Many public facilities have special accommodations for larger people. Should that be a requirement everywhere?

> What other characteristics would be considered less predictive, less controllable, and possible grounds for discrimination? I usually hate “slippery slope” arguments, but follow this one through and you end up with a number of answers. Height and attractiveness would be related and probably would be included with any law that discussed weight discrimination. How about a heavy accent? Introverted or extroverted personality? It seems you could argue that just about anything that has a component beyond our control should be protected if weight is. Many of those things are the things that make us unique. Do we want laws laid out for all of them? Would that make things better?

I can’t see how it would be argued logically. Of course that doesn’t mean it won’t happen and it doesn’t mean I can’t have my mind changed.

bolwerk's avatar

@funkdaddy: in the case of employment discrimination, using weight as a criterion would already be a huge red flag if it doesn’t relate to the job – most likely it would tie back to gender discrimination, however, e.g., hiring a man over an obese woman. Probably something that an employer can get away with once, but it could lead to trouble if a pattern could be established.

For that matter, anything not job-related can be problematic. There was a problem in California (I think) where height was used as a criterion in selecting firemen, which discriminated against some Hispanic ethnicities that tended to be short. But if it’s necessary to do the job, it can usually stand.

But to answer the OP’s question, it just seems problematic. And being a protected class doesn’t necessarily end unfair discrimination – it just regulates it.

zenvelo's avatar

I don’t think it stands on its own as a factor, but only as a medical condition. In hiring, it may affect the ability to do the work, which race, sex, age, don’t generally affect.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t think it rises to the level of prtected class. But, it is worth debating. When it comes to a job an employer can argue that how someone looks affects their ability to do the job, and if weight means sales and revenue would be lower, then the business would be within their rights most likely. It’s tricky though, because giving in to the public’s prejudice might be why sales would be lower. What if a black person would not be received well in a certain market, then only hiring I white person for that job might be considered discriminatory, unfair, probably illegal.

You have to be pretty big to have trouble because of your weight. There are some places in America where the majority of people are normal weight or thinner, but most of America has about 50% overweight, 30% being obese, and so many things are made in a larger size anyway. I was in an airport not too long ago (I can’t remember which one) and realized all the wheelchairs were wider than the typical ones I used to see.

I have wondered if the movement in the last 30 years to help overweight people feel good about themselves, big is beautiful type of thing, has actually hurt our population. A horrible double edged sword, because of course we don’t want people to be unhappy about themselves. During this movement people were on TV over and over again proclaiming their doctor tells them they are healthy. At least now doctors like Dr. Oz are saying if you are very heavy you are not healthy.

Is it our job as a society to keep each other healthy. Does a sort of shunning help keep people on a better path? I don’t like the idea of something so extreme, but shame has effectively manipulated society in the past. I don’t even like shaming anyone, but the threat of it is maybe enough? If we start accomodating people who are obese, it will happen more and more I think, it becomes normal.

Laws are supposed to protect people. Are we protecting those who are very obese by accomodating them? If their obesity causes medical problems and early death, is that helping? If the weight disables them, they are already accomodated in that way. I guess we need to think of govermenment and societies role regarding health issues, along with discriminations considerations.

Pandora's avatar

If there weight does not interfere with the job requirements than they should have an equal shot at a job. But then there are people who may be discriminated against because they aren’t pretty enough or even tall enough. Those are two things that are definetly not within ones control and yet people get discriminated for it everyday. Hell, your are even discriminated against for looking poor. Wear jeans, a plain t-shirt and no expensive jewelry and walk into a high end store. See if you don’t feel like leaving after receiving crappy service and nasty looks.
Plus a lot of employers are now banning people who smoke because they say it raises their insurance so they will probably claim the same about obese people.

jca's avatar

I believe discrimination against the overweight falls under the category of “lookism.”

Ponderer983's avatar

@woodcutter when I said the color of my skin is protected, I was implying race.

You all make valid points. I do understand the points made about being obese and having that be a disability, but I’m talking functioning overweight people who physically can perform any job even with their weight being what is.

It’s like when the studies come out that find “pretty” people make more money. If someone who is overweight or underweight has the same qualifications as this said “pretty person,” but the aren’t making the same money or getting the promotion, isn’t that a parallel to affirmative action? White person, black person, black person makes less money but has same credentials as white person.

I know the world isn’t perfect, nor will it ever be, but it really bothers me when you hear places like Abercrombie and Fitch only hire “pretty people.” People with weight issues can perform their job tasks just as well as them.

JLeslie's avatar

@Ponderer983 90% of teenagers are pretty. Youth is pretty in general. It’s really all about hair, make-up, clothing, weight, and how the kid carries him/herself. Truly, some children could get all fixed up with hair color, or hair straightner, or a good haircut, or more savvy fashion, knowing how to hold themselves, etc. I remember watching that show where. Child gets to try for really outside of their usual realm, and a tomboy girl wanted to be in a beauty contest. They transformed her. Not only surface stuff, but how she communicated, posture, and more. Beauty is not only a natural thing, it is learned and packaged, and takes some work for most people. It is many times dismissed as a God given thing that people get lucky with, but most beauties spend time on their beauty.

Abercombie’s large fits me usually, I am a 10 when I am at my heaviest, usually an 8. They are hiring people who are their target market. I assume, considerig the Q, that you are not so bothered the employees are typically very young, but just commenting on their beauty and size.

We could flip it, there are stores that carry larger sizes that heavier people can work there. Imagine a very thin person working at size 16 and up? Would that make the customers uncomfortable? If America keeps getting bigger, it might be the thin person who habe trouble finding a job in retail.

woodcutter's avatar

@Ponderer983 I know what you meant on the skin thing. So now that I got you out on that, what protections over what everyone else gets, or does not get, are going well for you?

What about really fat black people? Would they (or their lawyers) be able to double down on a discrimination complaint?

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: I think J Crew is also known to be fussy about the looks of its employees. I think there’s what they call a “J Crew look.”

Ponderer983's avatar

@woodcutter I don’t really understand your question or what you are trying to elicit. I am white btw. So I never really feel discriminated by the color of my skin. And hey, if fat black people (oh let’s make it woman to hit the triple whammy) want to throw as many categories out there in a complaint, they have the right to do so.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Most of clothing and cosmetics retail is to some extent. You are in front of the public selling fashion. How you look, dress codes, sometimes how long nails can be, hair pulled back or short, small earings, etc.

Typically they hire people to mirror their target market, not always of course. The sales person sort of conveys to the customer if the products will suit them or not. Almost like an advertisement.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: I totally understand.

woodcutter's avatar

@Ponderer983 I’m simply trying to get you to explain how or why you think skin color ,sex, combined with size is relevant for the purpose of discrimination. So you are thinking here that a really fat black female has it in spades when it comes to making something stick should she decide to sue someone? Is that right? Something like payback?

Ponderer983's avatar

@woodcutter Has nothing to do with payback IMO. I didn’t ask the question out of spite. Apparently, the government has already decided that color and sex are relevant in discrimination, as they are included in the protected classes of people. I just want to know people’s thoughts on including a person’s weight in the protected class of people. But when you say “relevant for the purpose of discrimination” that confuses me. Why I think they are relevant is because the government has stated that they are relevant, otherwise they would not be listed as a protected class of people. I personally agree with the laws as well. What would you consider “relevant for the purpose off discrimination?” There needs to be some criteria to discriminate against, so color and gender are 2 classes that viable claims can be made against. and no i don’t think she has it in spades. I don’t think she can just go around suing everyone because that’s who she is. She has to prove her case just like everyone else. These things are hard to prove, I realize that.

woodcutter's avatar

@Ponderer983 This interests me. Can you pride some info that declares obesity as a protected status?

funkdaddy's avatar

@woodcutter – maybe we’re not all talking about the same things.

From protected classes

Protected class is a term used in United States anti-discrimination law. The term describes characteristics or factors which can not be targeted for discrimination and harassment. The following characteristics are considered “Protected Classes” and persons cannot be discriminated against based on these characteristics:

- Race – Federal: Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Color – Federal: Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Religion – Federal: Civil Rights Act of 1964
- National origin – Federal: Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Age (40 and over) – Federal: Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Sex – Federal: Equal Pay Act of 1963 & Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Familial status (Housing, cannot discriminate for having children, exception for senior housing)
- Disability status – Federal: Vocational Rehabilitation and Other Rehabilitation Services of 1973 & Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
- Veteran status – Federal Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974
- Genetic information – Federal: Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

This discussion is in regards to whether weight should be included on the list as well.

Ponderer983's avatar

Thanks @funkdaddy I didn’t think maybe him and I were not on the same page

@woodcutter Obesity is NOT a protected class of people. My original question is SHOULD it be included. And I am not just referring to obese people. the other end of the spectrum (extremely thin) I am including in this scenario.

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