Society & Culture - Posted by Jim Patterson-Vanderbilt on Monday, June 25, 2012 15:13 - 1 Comment
Laws may keep obesity bias out of hiring
VANDERBILT (US) — Two US cities could provide a national model for combating workplace discrimination because of obesity, according to a new paper.
Urbana, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin, are among six cities across the United States that prohibit discrimination against people because of their weight, much as Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, or national origin.
The others are Binghamton, New York, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California, and Washington, DC. The state of Michigan provides similar protections.
Straight from the Source
“The evidence suggests that at least two of the local laws—in Urbana and Madison—have helped,” says Jennifer Shinall, who recently earned her J.D. and Ph.D in law and economics from Vanderbilt University.
Shinall’s work-in-progress paper can be viewed at the Social Science Research Network.
According to her research, efforts to combat workplace weight discrimination in Urbana and Madison have worked because it’s easier for people who feel they’re victims of obesity discrimination to seek relief in those locations.
“Discrimination victims who wish to file a complaint (in Urbana and Madison) must go through the local commission’s process,” Shinall says. “The commissions handle the complaints entirely, so complainants do not need a lawyer.”
Although Michigan, Washington, DC, and San Francisco also have local commissions, employees in these cities have a more difficult time seeking redress for discrimination claims, Shinall says. The Urbana and Madison commission processes work because they are quick, cheap, and easy to pursue, Shinall says.
The laws in Urbana and Madison (and Washington, DC) prohibit discrimination on the basis of “physical appearance” while the laws of other cities and Michigan specify “weight.”
A second approach to protecting overweight people from workplace discrimination has not been successful, Shinall says. A 1993 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, Cook v. Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, recognized morbid obesity as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This decision indicated that morbidly obese workers would henceforth be entitled to federal disability protections in the 1st Circuit.
Although Cook remains good law in the 1st Circuit, the decision has not improved employment outcomes for the obese there over the last two decades.
As a result, Shinall concludes that the 2008 amendments to the ADA, which broadened the definition of disability and may lead other circuits to recognize obesity as a disability, are unlikely to improve employment outcomes for the obese.
“Any future law that seeks to improve this situation should be modeled after Urbana and Madison,” Shinall says.
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