In Las Vegas, the Heart Attack Grill caters to overweight and obese people. The Heart Attack Grill serves some of the largest burgers available and certainly the most calories any food has – one type of burger has about 9,982 calories. Some restaurants pretend to offer healthy alternatives like McDonalds salads. At the Heart Attack Grill, there is no pretense at healthy eating. Instead, obesity is celebrated. The waitresses are dressed up as nurses and anyone who finishes a triple or quadruple bypass burger can leave in a wheelchair pushed by their own personal “nurse.” If a customer weighs over 350 lbs, they eat for free.
The Heart Attack Grill humorously embraces the absurdly of obese America, but what goes on in Vegas usually stays in Vegas. While embracing obesity may be acceptable in sin city, it’s debatable if it should be protected by law. However, New York City hasn’t gotten the memo that obesity “culture” should be more parody than reality.
New York City’s Proposal The New York City Council, by a 44 person margin, approved a bill against weight discrimination. If passed, the bill would add weight alongside race, gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination. The proposed law would prohibit employers and businesses from discriminating on the basis of weight in employment, housing, and access to public accommodations. Any complaints about weight discrimination would be investigated by the City’s Commission on Human Rights, which handles similar complaints over race, gender, and pregnancy.
New York City would join several states in protecting against weight discrimination, including Michigan and Washington State, and cities like the District of Colombia. New Jersey and Massachusetts are considering similar bills.
At the City Council meeting, several people testified in favor of the bill. A student said that desks that New York University classrooms were too small for her. A member of the Metropolitan Opera said she faced body shaming and pressure to get surgery or develop an eating disorder. A bus driver in New Jersey said he lost his job after failing a medical examination. A firefighter said he was told to lose 71 pounds in one month.
Is Weight Usually a Choice?
Most legally protected characteristics are difficult, if not impossible to change, on one person’s own. This includes race, sex, age, and sexual orientation. While religion is changeable, it is also explicitly protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
In contrast, weight is not explicitly protected by the Constitution nor is it certain that it cannot be changed with at least a modest effort. Weight can often be changed by diet and exercise. Many people may believe that it is easier to expect overweight people to change their lives rather than ask society to accommodate them, especially if slimming down would lead to a healthier body and a
longer life. Excessive weight gain is more akin to smoking tobacco, subject to “moral taxes” rather than an unchangeable trait like one’s sex or race that could be unfairly targeted.
However, there may also be a genetic component to weight gain. If weight is from biology rather than choice, then it would be more similar to the other protected traits. The trouble is that there are many heavy people who put in the effort and do change their shape. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate those who are heavy by an unhealthy lifestyle and those who are too large because of their genetics. Even if the cause was natural, many of those people could still slim down through exercise and diet.
Weight Discrimination Cannot Override Legitimate Safety Concerns
Weight is also different in that there may be legitimate safety concerns that traits such as race or sex do not present. There are rides, vehicles, medications, and other activities that are limited either by physical capacity of the audience or the size of the user. Roller coaster rides and automobiles are often designed to specific weight capacities. Anyone who weighs outside the intended weight design may pose a risk not only to themselves, but others around them.
There are also some forms of discrimination that are not only legal but sensible. A blind man cannot be an airline pilot because his disability may endanger himself and passengers. Similarly, a bus driver who is physically too large to sit in the bus seat may not be able to perform his job safely, which would not only put him in danger, but also the passengers as well. Likewise, the firefighter is expected to carry heavy equipment, or even people, to perform his job. If his weight prevents him from doing his job safely, he should be expected to lose weight. If the “disability” would put others in danger, then discrimination should not only be legal but even necessary.
Can a Lawyer Help With My Weight Discrimination Claim?
A weight discrimination claim may require a detailed legal analysis, involving coverage under state, federal, and municipal laws. Unlike New York City, most American jurisdictions do not specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of weight. A discrimination lawyer can help evaluate your claim, file the correct agency, and court complaints, and obtain the best outcome for your case. Conversely, you will need a lawyer if you are being sued for weight discrimination.