Don’t Call Me Shorty and Don’t Call Me Fat! New Weight and Height Anti-Discrimination Laws Passed in NYC
The New York City Council passed a new bill that makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone due to their weight or height in regard to employment, housing, and public accommodations. In the US, six cities, including Madison, Wisconsin; Urbana, Illinois; Binghamton, New York; San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California; and Washington DC have similar restrictions. One state, Michigan, also passed a law on discrimination due to weight and height.
Statistics show that weight discrimination is mostly a female concern, with women of color suffering the most. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that obese women “earned $5.25 less per hour than women considered normal weight, according to a Vanderbilt University study.” The report states that discrimination “based on weight is also comparable to the levels of racial discrimination in the United States, according to the American Journal of Public Health.”
The study showed that obese men were hired in lucrative jobs and paid at a much higher rate than women considered obese.
"Obese and overweight men were 1.46 times more likely to be placed in professional jobs and had 13.9% higher monthly wages than their normal-weight counterparts,” the report stated. "However, obese and overweight women were 0.33 times less likely to have service jobs, earned 9.0% lower monthly wages, and half as likely to have jobs with bonuses than that of their normal-weight counterparts.”
New York City Councilman Shaun Abreu, the lead sponsor of the new bill, said it’s time to change the culture of weight and height discrimination. Abreu said a version of the bill existed before he came on board. But after facing his own weight discrimination, he took the lead.
“It’s not only protecting people in the workplace from this or in getting apartments, but it’s also about changing culture,” said Abreu, who said he also suffered from weight discrimination.
“Just recently someone who I considered to be a friend came up to me and touched my stomach and said, ‘we’re getting bigger there buddy,’” he explained. “And it just speaks to the toxic culture that exists in the United States when it comes to people that are above their average peer's weight.”
With the law on the books, it’s vital to note that proving discrimination of any kind is always difficult. The new New York City bill mandates job descriptions that require a specific height or weight to perform any job will now be considered discrimination.
“If there’s a job requirement where weight is related to the essential function of the job, then that’s an affirmative defense that an employer will have,” said Abreu.
At the city council meeting, numerous people who are part of a fat-activism community spoke publicly about their experiences with discrimination when applying for jobs and in other situations.
But not everyone agrees with the new law. The Partnership of New York City, an organization that protects the interests of smaller businesses in the city, believes the new law will lead to costly litigation for its members. President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, Kathy Wylde, said they are concerned the New York City Council did not ponder the possible effect the new anti-discrimination law will have upon mom-and-pop stores.
“The extent of the impact and cost of this legislation has not been fully considered,” said Wylde. “Testimony at the hearing talked about the problems overweight people face sitting in restaurant and theater seats, bikes having a weight limit, taxi cabs requiring seat belt extenders. All of these things could be considered discrimination under this bill and require costly modifications to avoid fines and lawsuits.”
However, the new law does indeed take into consideration some vital exceptions.
The bill’s introduction states, “This bill would also create an exemption for employers needing to consider height or weight in employment decisions only where required by federal, state, or local laws or regulations or where the Commission on Human Rights permits such considerations because height or weight may prevent a person from performing essential requirements of a job and no alternative is available or this criteria is reasonably necessary for the normal operation of the business. This bill would similarly permit consideration of height or weight by operators or providers of public accommodations. Covered entities under this law would have an affirmative defense that their actions based on a person’s height or weight were reasonably necessary for normal operations.”