New developments in the law for obesity discrimination protection

Authors


Abstract

Background:

Obese individuals are frequent targets of weight-based discrimination, particularly in the employment setting. Victims of weight discrimination have sought legal restitution like others who have suffered from different forms of discrimination. However, in the vast majority of the United States, body weight is not a protected class and weight-based employment discrimination does not provide a basis for a legal claim. Some have attempted to seek legal recourse under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (collectively, the ADA), which protect against discrimination based on mental or physical disabilities in a variety of settings. Until recently, claims of weight discrimination under the ADA have also been largely unsuccessful. However, Congress recently passed the ADA Amendments Act, expanding the definition of what constitutes a disability and incorporating a broad view of ADA's coverage.

Objective:

This short communication provides an update of the law as it relates to employment based discrimination of obese people. The authors propose a legislative direction for future legal recourse.

Design and Methods:

The authors conducted legal research into the ADA Amendments Act, and synthesized this work relating to discrimination against weight in the employment context.

Results:

In light of the ADA Amendments Act, courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have provided protection for severely obese people from discrimination based on actual or perceived disability in the employment context.

Conclusion:

The authors discuss this positive legal development and additionally propose a targeted solution to address weight discrimination in the employment setting. National polling suggests there is considerable public support for such a measure. The authors thus recommend the implementation of a “Weight Discrimination in Employment Act” modeled after the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to adequately address this pervasive and damaging injustice toward individuals who are affected by obesity.

Ancillary