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Robert S. Norell, P.A. Motto
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New Study Highlights Disturbing Weight Discrimination in the Workplace


A recently-released study by the University of Strathclyde and published in PLOS One reveals that women face severe weight-based prejudice in the workplace, even when their body mass index (BMI) is within what is considered to be the “healthy” range. This inherent employment discrimination reveals that, in particular, when it comes to industries in the service sector, women are severely discriminated against if they don’t have the “right look” that fits in with corporate image.

In this particular study, participants were asked to rate job applicants’ suitability for jobs in the service sector only based on appearance. The results were startling: even marginal increases in weight had a negative outcome for female job prospects.

While previous studies have highlighted workplace discrimination with regard to people who are overweight or obese, this study is the first to document how women who are within the medically-healthy BMI range still face some of the highest discrimination in the service sector, specifically. While both men and women face discrimination in a weight-conscious labor market, it is clear that women face far more. The results are nothing other than deeply unsettling in terms of gender inequality in the workplace.

The Law

When it comes to weight discrimination in the workplace, several laws provide protection to employees. Federal laws providing protection tend to be very specific: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against someone due to pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to either of these.

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified candidate who has a disability in private, state, and local government employment. It also mandates that employees must provide reasonable accommodations for physical or mental disabilities of its employees in many circumstances.

In addition, state law in Florida protects employees against discrimination by drawing upon all of the aforementioned categories: race, gender, national origin, disability, marital status, age, etc. Thus, individuals who are discriminated against due to obesity have protection based on prohibitions against disability discrimination. This not only includes individuals who have physical impairments that have resulted in obesity, but employers who perceive that individuals have a disability because they are overweight or obese.

In addition, individuals discriminated against based on obesity may be able to bring a disparate impact lawsuit, arguing that the employer’s hiring policy is having a disproportionate negative effect on a protected group (for example, women who work in a particular service sector).

Florida Employment Discrimination Attorneys

Robert S. Norell represents people in state and federal employment discrimination actions throughout the greater Fort Lauderdale area. With over 20 years of experience in this field, our employment discrimination attorneys have seen all instances of employers victimizing employees and potential employees. If you have any questions or need help with an employment discrimination matter, contact us today.


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