Over the last 16 months, state and federal lawmakers have passed a number of bills against work-related discrimination — California State Senate just voted to criminalize discrimination based on a person’s caste while Washington’s governor signed a bill against denying employment due to cannabis use in February 2023.
On a national level, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Crown Act against race-based hair discrimination in March 2022.
While only applicable to the city, New York became the latest take on discrimination based on a person’s physical characteristics. On May 11, New York City Council voted to add new protections against denying jobs, housing or public services due to a person’s weight and height.
‘No Legal Remedy For This Prejudice’
Approved by a committee vote of 4 to 0, the bill now heads to the office of Mayor Eric Adams to be signed into law. Similar anti-discrimination protections have long existed for race, sexual orientation, gender identity and place of origin at both the federal and state level.
“People with different body types are not only denied jobs and promotions that they deserve, their whole existence has also been denied by a society that has offered no legal remedy for this prejudice,” Councilmember Shaun Abreu, who sponsored the bill, wrote in a Facebook post.
Abreu had previously talked about how the bill was personal to him after gaining 40 pounds during the pandemic and noticing a marked difference in treatment. According to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 40% of American adults are currently overweight but many still face prejudice both at the job site and when trying to find work.
“A luxury brand specialist was sent to the stockroom after giving birth because baby weight didn’t fit the company image,” Abreu said while bringing up examples of different kinds of discrimination during the council meeting prior to the bill’s passing. “A sales associate took some time off to care for her family and put on a few pounds. She was met with snide remarks and questions about her energy level when trying to reenter the workforce.”
The New Bill Could Upend NYC Hiring, Critics Say
The bill makes an exemption for roles in which a specific height or weight is required to complete the work but those requirements need to be explicitly written into federal or state law.
If it is signed into law, New York will join cities such as Washington, D.C. and Madison, Wisconsin in including weight as a protected characteristics. Michigan is currently the only state in the country to have such protections — a law against discrimination based on weight, height and age was enacted back in 1976.
Similarly to other protections against other physical characteristics, an employee would need to go to court to prove that they were not hired or passed over for a promotion based on their weight or height. Such cases are notoriously hard to prove so the bill is meant to largely act as a deterrent.
But according to some company executives and critics of the bill, the wording could still create confusion around what is or isn’t discrimination.
“The extent of the impact and cost of this legislation has not been fully considered,” Kathy Wylde, who leads the Partnership for New York City public sector nonprofit, wrote a statement on the bill’s passing. “[…Many] things could be considered discrimination under this bill and require costly modifications to avoid fines and lawsuits,”