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Does the Law Protect Against Discrimination Based on Obesity?

Until recently, lawsuits based upon obesity and weight discrimination had been largely unsuccessful despite the fact that there are many statistics that indicate obese individuals are vulnerable to discrimination based upon their weight as often as individuals are discriminated against based upon their race. Examples of weight discrimination in the workplace include obese employees facing unfair hiring practices, lower wages, harsher discipline and wrongful termination compared to thinner employees.

A couple of ways to address weight discrimination involves attempts to sue under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”). These statutes protect against discrimination based on mental or physical disabilities in employment and also by public services, and privately owned accommodations by federal, state and local governments.

Although only a few states and about 6 cities in the United States have explicit laws against weight discrimination, the trend over the past few years is changing and the result is broader recognition for weight discrimination claims. The new changes seem to have a positive impact on the success of such claims.

In 2008, the ADA was amended to define “disability” as almost any disease or medical condition and explicitly mentions morbid obesity as a disability. In 2010, the EEOC found that obesity was indeed a disease and most recently, in June 2013 the American Medical Association formally classified obesity as a disease making it clear that obesity could indeed be a viable cause of action for discriminatory work practices. Indeed the EEOC has since begun to obtain positive settlements for employees who were allegedly terminated based on their severe obesity as a covered disability and because the employers additionally regarded them as disabled because of their obesity.

Attorneys with a focus in Employment Discrimination, including weight discrimination or disability discrimination can protect your interests and your rights. If you would like to get a consultation with one of our New York employment discrimination attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Borrelli and Associates immediately.


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