Employers Can Discriminate Based on Weight, Judges Rule

Rates of obesity may be rising in the United States, but that doesn’t mean discrimination against overweight people has lessened much. In fact, a new appellate court case says it is perfectly okay to fire an employee for putting on weight.

21 cocktail waitresses employed at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J., sued their bosses for holding them to difficult weight standards. The casino maintained that all individuals applying for a server position are informed that they cannot increase their body weight by more than 7 percent from the time they are hired. Three judges agreed that the casino did not break any laws by holding their employees to these standards. The court believes that the rules on employee appearance are fair game since the scantily clad servers, known as “Borgata Babes,” are considered part of the casino’s brand.

The casino maintains that it has only actually fired two employees for breaking policy – one for gaining too much weight, and another for losing too much. According to the women who brought the lawsuit, however, many other servers were suspended without pay until they lost the weight and were forced to participate in frequent weigh-ins.

The prosecution hoped they might be able to make a case that the strict weight rules were gender discrimination in disguise. However, the judges disagreed since approximately one out of 20 “Borgata Babes” at the casino are men. Since the men are held to the same weight standards as the women, it’s harder to prove that the women are being discriminated against.

The case is not entirely settled, though. The court gave 11 of the women the go-ahead to pursue harassment claims against their employers for shaming them about their weight beyond reasonable disciplinary grounds. Allegedly, women who were pregnant or gained weight from a medical ailment were also harassed by management for their weight.

Regardless of the court’s decision, Borgata would be wise not to put so much pressure on its employees to drop pounds. Studies show that shaming people into losing weight most often results in those people gaining more weight.

Though all states have civil rights laws protecting Americans on the basis of their gender or race, only one state explicitly declares that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of weight: Michigan. If cases like this one coming out of Atlantic City continue, however, we might see more states consider making weight a protected class.

Certainly, there is evidence that overweight people are discriminated against in the workplace. Last year, a study showed that skinny women earn a lot more money for equal work than overweight women. While men are subject to some of this discrimination as well, it’s not nearly as significant as it is for women, confirming that we expect women to conform to certain standards of beauty, while overweight men get by better in the workplace.

As it stands, we’re still trying to convince many states of the importance of making laws that protect people from getting fired/not hired on the basis of their sexual orientations. Since fat shaming is perhaps even more acceptable in society than homophobia, my guess is we have a long way to go before biases against obese people are forbidden by law.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

129 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S9 months ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey2 years ago

No surprise.

There are many jobs that require a degree of physical fitness: Police officer, firemen, construction workers, even waitresses, never mind that the military requires it.

How well do you think a 300lb person can fireman carry a person out of a burning house or run after a criminal, while carrying a gun belt, down the street?

Remember the children's movie WALLE where everyone was so fat they lived on movable couches and could barely walk or even stand. They depended on mechanical devices to support their lifestyle.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld2 years ago

Pam W.,
Yes. It was behavior that reinforced negative stereotypes about football players being mean and aggressive. I can see your points.

I have a hard calling behavioral issues discrimination.

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pam w.
pam w2 years ago

Dan, I'm going to make a GUESS that the players' behavior wasn't what the team wanted to portray?

This is tricky and can easily be misconstrued as racial/religious/gender bias. BUT...just as I wouldn't hire a man in my WAXING salon, I wouldn't hire a grossly obese person as a flight attendant. In the first place, I want someone AGILE enough to help passengers get out of my plane in an emergency! Secondly, I want someone who won't block the aisle...period!

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld2 years ago

Pam W.,
Good points. Last year, two football players were suspended for the season, for issues unrelated to their job performance. It was an "image" issue that the league wanted to portray.

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Charles Wallis
Charles Wallis2 years ago

TFTS

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Karen H.
Karen H2 years ago

Interesting how Chris Christie, the "rotund" governor of NJ is telling the head of the NJ National Guard he has 90 days to lose weight.

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Eric Lees
Eric Lees2 years ago

Any private citizen has the basic right to choose whom to do associate with. That includes businesses and who they hire or who they choose as their customers.

It's the government that is not allowed to discriminate.

Would you hire a personal trainer that is out of shape?

It comes down to basic Liberty.

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