Workplace discrimination can be hard to prove, and when it comes to weight, certain industries — hospitality, entertainment — might seem to be more prone to prejudice. In 2013, 22 cocktail waitresses who worked for Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa sued their employer
for having to endure frequent weigh-ins, and being subject to suspension if they gained a certain amount of weight. In the weight-obsessed modeling industry, Chrissy Teigen says
she was fired early in her career from a shoot at Forever 21 for being "fat."
In the corporate world, weight bias might be more ambiguous, but it is no less prevalent. “Weight discrimination in employment has been documented as one of the most common forms of employment discrimination that people experience,” says Rebecca Puhl, a professor at the University of Connecticut and the Deputy Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
. “Some research in the U.S. has found that among women, weight discrimination is comparable to rates of racial discrimination.”
Unlike racial bias, though, there is little legal protection against it in this country. Those Borgata cocktail waitresses lost their lawsuit, because New Jersey, like 48 other states, doesn’t have a law on the books prohibiting discrimination based on weight. Michigan is the only state where such a law exists, so most people who suffer this unfairness have no legal recourse.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination laws may cover workers who are morbidly obese, because the disease falls within the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but not just any size-related case of bias. However, according to EEOC spokesperson Christine Saah Nazer, "the entire thrust of EEOC's mission is to have people considered for employment based on their qualifications and experience — not on irrelevant factors.”
Without protection laws in place, unfairness exists at every step of the employment process, and as with many issues in the workplace, it can be worse for women. According to Puhl, “some national studies show that women...experience more weight discrimination at lower levels of being overweight than men, who tend to report this form of discrimination at higher levels of obesity.”