Let’s not sugarcoat it. Being overweight isn’t always a joy. Dress choices can be limited. People can be judgmental. Even certain activities might not be doable, like balancing in a kayak or riding certain amusement park rides. But when it costs you a job promotion, then even the most body-accepting person has to think, whoa.
Because fat discrimination is a thing.
And now a legal precedent has been set.
In an era in which just about everything is regarded as a disability, at least two courts have stepped forward and labeled one major condition as NOT being a disability. Which means employers have some freedom on how to deal with it.
The condition in question: obesity.The U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska – Omaha recently ruled that Melvin Morriss’ obesity didn’t qualify him for protection under the ADA because his obesity wasn’t a disability.
And when Morriss appealed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld that ruling.
Now the good news is that this situation is limited to “safety-sensitive positions”, but the very bad news is that most states in America do not have protections against weight discrimination. Indeed, Only Michigan views obesity as a disability. All other states view it as a self-inflicted condition.
Indeed, what is disheartening about this case is that the courts ruled that for “a condition to be an ADA-qualifying disability, it must be the result of some physiological disorder that affects a major body system.” Apparently, the courts are now medical professionals who believe all cases of obesity come solely from “over-eating” and can never arise from any other medical condition. [sigh]
What makes this case all the more disturbing is that study after study has shown fat discrimination in the work place is real, every day, and especially directed against women.
Overblown nonsense? Think again.
Lack of Medical Services
Increased Likelihood of Conviction
Lack of Legal Rights
Impacted Earning Potential
Doctors tend to assume fat people won’t follow their advice, juries tend to convict the overweight at higher frequencies, fat people are picked on and bullied as “easy targets”, etc. etc. Read the article above and follow the links to the documented studies describing each of these six discriminations.
Discrimination seems to be an ubiquitary phenomenon at least for some groups that are at special risk, such as heavier individuals and women. Our findings therefore emphasize the need for research and intervention on weight discrimination among adults with obesity, including anti-discrimination legislation.
Translation: Heavier women are frequently discriminated against. This should stop.
This paper demonstrates that obese women are more likely to work in jobs that emphasize physical activity, but they are less likely to work in jobs that emphasize public interaction. The same patterns in occupational characteristics do not exist for obese men. In light of prior literature finding an unexplained wage gap between obese women and non-obese women, these results are particularly relevant since physical activity jobs pay relatively less on average, while public interaction jobs pay relatively more. Moreover, the few obese women who work in public interaction occupations receive lower wages than non-obese women, and their wage penalty offsets the general premium to working in a job emphasizing public interaction. Together, these results suggest that taste-based discrimination may be driving occupational sorting among obese women and, as a result, is at least one source of the wage penalty experienced by obese women.
In other words, overweight women work physically hard but are stigmatized as “lazy”.
Despite these sobering statistics, no federal law protects workers from obesity-related workplace discrimination. Courts have ruled in favor of individuals who have successfully proved that their weight directly affected their job performance, but such instances are rare. At the state level, Michigan is the only state whose workplace anti-discrimination laws include body size bias — leaving most overweight workers with little recourse when it comes to protecting their rights.
“This kind of bias affects people from the time they are hired to the time they are fired,” says Rebecca Puhl, the Rudd Center’s director of research and weight stigma initiatives. “Our research shows that obese workers are less likely to be hired and less likely to be promoted,” she says. “Obese men earn on average 3 percent less than their slim counterparts — obese women more than 6 percent less.”
Just because of the way you look, you will earn less. In many cases, it doesn’t even matter if your qualifications are superior.
When Sarah Bramblette, then 33, applied for an open manager position in 2011 at her job with a physician staffing group in Sunrise, Florida, she was told she didn’t have enough experience. Bramblette had two bachelor’s degrees — a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Health Services Administration — plus five years of management experience working in higher education.
Not one to be put off, she asked her director what she could do to better her chances at getting past the screening process the next time a management position became available. Bramblette, who weighed around 360 pounds at the time, says she was told: “Dress for the part you want, not the part you have.”
“So despite two degrees, I was being told my advancement in the company was based on how I looked, not skills or experience,” Bramblette says. She had been wearing office attire such as black dress pants to work. While she didn’t fully agree with what her director said, she changed her wardrobe anyway and began to wear more dresses to the office. Even so, the next open manager position went to a co-worker who had less relevant experience than Bramblette and no college degree.
Bramblette has lipedema and lymphedema, medical conditions that cause excess tissue and fluid to accumulate in the arms and legs, weight that can’t be lost through diet or exercise. Living with these diseases is not easy. “Physically, it’s painful. My arms and legs are heavy and sensitive to touch. Even sitting and lying down are uncomfortable due to the size of my arms and legs, [and my] hips do not align properly.”
“A morbidly obese woman working in an occupation with an emphasis on personal interaction will earn almost 5 percent less than a normal-weight woman working in an occupation with exactly the same emphasis,” Shinall says. Even after taking differences in education and socioeconomic status into account, there seems to be no scenario where being overweight becomes an advantage for a woman.
Let’s rephrase that last bit; in the workplace, it is never a good thing for a woman to be overweight, period.
In short yes, but if a thin woman gains weight she is heavily penalized salary-wise versus a thin man gaining weight. See Below.
And lest you think these burdens are shouldered only by the extremely obese, a weight gain of 25 pounds predicted an annual salary loss of approximately $14,000 per year — or even more, if the woman gaining the weight was previously thin, as thin women who gain weight are penalized more harshly than already-overweight women who do so. Even being as little as 13 pounds overweight resulted in $9,000 less per year. I hope this demonstrates that this issue is not exclusively of concern to the very fat, but women in general.
Alright, if you are not in the fetal position weeping right now, no one would blame you. This is just a terrible situation.
Thankfully, things are changing.
Despite these challenges, recent efforts indicate several small, but important, steps to increase legal protections to individuals with obesity. Congress recently passed the ADA Amendments Act, which expanded definitions of disability to include ‘severe obesity’ and has resulted in several successful case settlements for individuals who experienced weight-based employment discrimination.9 In addition, in 2015, Massachusetts proposed a law to prohibit weight discrimination that received a favorable vote in an initial state hearing.10 If the law is passed, Massachusetts will become the second state in the country to prohibit weight discrimination.
Of course, this is going to take time. Even if Massachusetts passes this legislation, we still have 48 other states to go.
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