People who are overweight or obese have trouble in multiple areas of their lives, including at school, when seeking medical care, and at work. This is because of societal bias against people who have weight problems. Many people think that people who are overweight or obese are lazy or have weaker wills. Overweight and obese people are less likely to be hired or promoted, and they are often paid less. Employees who are overweight or obese are also likelier to be disciplined at work or harassed.
While weight discrimination is prevalent, companies in most areas of the U.S. can get away with it because it’s not illegal in most states. Only a few cities and the state of Michigan prohibit weight discrimination. In 2013, a judge in New Jersey ruled that an Atlantic City casino was allowed to regulate the weight of its cocktail servers because the state had not outlawed discrimination based on weight. However, some people might be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but only if they are severely obese or have related conditions that qualify as disabilities. Here is what you need to know about weight discrimination from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Weight Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA prohibits discrimination based on a perceived or real physical disability that substantially limits an employee’s ability in one or more major life activities. However, judges have hesitated to find that being overweight is a qualifying condition because they worry that doing so could create a slippery slope.
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) holds that severe obesity is a qualifying disability. To qualify under this law, you must weigh twice the medically recommended weight for a person of your height.
Even if your weight doesn’t qualify you for protection, you might have other related conditions that could qualify you for protection:
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Weight Discrimination and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
The Appellate Division in New Jersey has held that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) does not protect people against weight discrimination when as the sole basis for a discrimination complaint. In that case, the plaintiff worked as a bus driver for a bus company. He was required to maintain a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) and pass a physical exam every two years to verify his fitness to drive to maintain his license. The man weighed between 500 to 600 pounds during his 10 years with the company.
At the man’s physical in 2015, the doctor said that the man needed more testing before he would be certified to continue driving a bus. His supervisors placed him out of service until he could pass the additional tests and receive his medical certification. He filed a complaint against the company in Feb. 2016, alleging weight discrimination and the creation of a hostile work environment. He was subsequently diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and suffered a stroke. Furthermore, the man was diagnosed with multiple other conditions, including chronic congestive heart failure, morbid obesity, and peripheral edema.
The Superior Court judge dismissed the man’s claim that his obesity was a disability under the NJLAD and his lawsuit. He filed an appeal. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision and found that obesity was not a disability recognized under the NJLAD. It also denied his claim that a hostile work environment had been created based on a perceived disability, finding that a claim based on obesity must have evidence that the defendant perceived the man to be disabled based on a medical condition that caused his obesity.
Hiring Decisions and Being Overweight
Employees in New Jersey work at will, which means an employer can fire them for any reason at any time as long as the reason is legal. While weight discrimination is a pervasive problem, it is not illegal under New Jersey law. This means an employer can refuse to hire you because of your weight. However, if you are severely obese as defined under the ADAAA, you might be protected under that law. If an employer discriminates against you based on a health condition related to your weight, such as congestive heart failure or others, you could similarly be protected.
Talk to the Attorneys at Swartz Swidler
Millions of Americans are overweight or obese. However, weight discrimination is generally not a basis for filing a discrimination complaint in most states, including New Jersey. If you believe that your employer discriminated against you based on a different medical condition other than your weight, you might want to speak to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler. We can discuss what happened in your case and explain whether you have available remedies. Call us today for a free consultation at (856) 685-7420.