There is no specific statute that states that discriminating against someone because of his or her weight is illegal. There are two statutes under which potential claims in this area could be brought.
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 -- Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of race, religion, sex, national origin, or color. In 1991, the act was amended to codify the disparate impact. Disparate impact is defined as adverse effect of a practice or standard that is neutral and non-discriminatory in its intention but, nonetheless, disproportionately affects individuals having a disability or belonging to a particular group based on their age, ethnicity, race, or sex.
Using the disparate impact definition, overweight discrimination would be illegal because:
- It would be treating the victim differently because of his or her appearance like the prohibitions against race, color, and gender.
- Obesity is higher in the African-American and Hispanic communities’ discrimination because of obesity would adversely affect these members of a protected group.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—extends the protections of the Civil Rights Act to persons who are determined to be disabled. Disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities” of the individual affected. Major life activities are such things as walking, seeing, hearing, and speaking. The legal theories under the ADA are that:
- If a person’s obesity was related to or caused by an underlying medical condition, then discriminatory actions against the person would be prohibited.
The existence of a disability under the act is determined on a case-by-case basis with the court considering such factors as the makeup of the disease, the permanency of the condition and the way in which the condition was acquired.
If you think you have been a victim of discrimination because of your weight, consult a lawyer who specializes in employment law. They can advise you on the strength or weakness of your case, give you information about what you need to prove. There is no statutory protection for overweight discrimination, but there is helpful case law. The epidemic of obesity in this country will probably increase litigation in this area of the law. You will need a competent lawyer to prove your case
There is no explicit case law protecting people from discrimination because of their weight. There is potential protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the American with Disabilities Act. This is an unsettled area of the law, good legal representation is essential to success.