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The Unspoken Discrimination in the Workplace (Part 2)

Are there any laws that protect individuals from weight discrimination? It is such a shame that such bias takes place. Additionally, you would be surprised to learn that the state of Michigan is the only state in the United States that protect candidates and employees from discrimination based on weight. The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has prohibited discrimination based on weight, race, disability, color, age, religion, height, sex, national origin, or marital status (Sterling, 2022). This state law is considered to be complex procedurally and it is important to contact a lawyer that is well-versed in handling such cases. General information to know about this law is that employers may not refuse to hire, discharge, discriminate in compensation, limit, segregate, or classify a worker so that they are deprived of opportunity because of their weight. The only exemption a Michigan employer would have is if they can prove a bona fide occupational qualification in which they may “discriminate” based on appearance.

To be fair and bring light to other areas that have a similar law in place, we must discuss their contribution to prohibition of weight discrimination in employment activities. Other areas to highlight are Washington DC, Binghamton (NY), Madison (WC), and San Francisco (CA). These territories and cities have created a law that also prohibits employers from discriminated against applicants and employees because of their appearance. On a federal level, obesity is not a covered characteristic under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Obesity is not considered an impairment under the ADA; however, if it is connected to an underlying condition that may be physiological or psychological, then we have movement. With the obesity epidemic in the US, one would think to consider this its own separate disease. However, federal courts have not updated obesity to be included in the definition of impairment.

Because there are limited state laws and no federal laws, it is hard for employees and candidates to win a case against obesity discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the administrative agency that handles or enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. This may be the best chance at challenging your employer; however, keeping in consideration it must be tied to a disability. Because there are no federal laws, many of these cases are likely handled at the state level if not settled through the EEOC. The EEOC provides reports on the different discrimination cases, and which are the most common complaint. I believe is obesity was a protected class, it would be at the top of most reported. The law is usually slow in catching up to current events. Therefore, I don’t foresee anyone challenging this at the federal level tomorrow. However, it is making headway on the state level, and this could be the encourager to help get it recognized federally. For now, candidates must deal with unfair recruitment practices and inequitable internal employment decisions.

Do you think Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should include obesity as a protected class?

Sterling, R. (2022). Michigan’s Legal Protection Against Jon Discrimination Based on Weight. Sterling Attorneys. Retrieved on November 20, 2022 from,

The Unspoken Discrimination in the Workplace (Part 2) © 2022 by Tameka Lockhart-Spann is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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