New York City to ban weight discrimination
New York City, where Singh lives, is trying to change that, and lawmakers and advocates hope their efforts will inspire other cities and states to do the same.
The New York City Council is set to pass a law that would ban discrimination based on height and weight in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. The bill advanced to its final hearing in late February and is expected to be put to a vote in the coming weeks.
State legislatures in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey could follow suit, with all four bodies currently considering similar policies. It would extend protections against size discrimination to millions of Americans, marking a major shift in the country, where such protections currently exist in only two states, Michigan and Washington.
The New York City bill, with 33 co-sponsors on a council that requires 26 affirmative votes to pass legislation, would add height and weight as protected classes under the law on city’s human rights, alongside gender, race, age, national origin and more. Mayor Eric Adams has also indicated his support for the bill, said Councilman and bill sponsor Shaun Abreu. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, an advocacy group, also supports it.
“It was long overdue as a civil rights issue,” Abreu says La Poste. “It’s super important that we treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve. Ultimately, it’s about job security, it’s about housing security. If someone looks a certain way, if someone has a different body size or has a higher weight, who cares? »
More than 40% of adults in the United States say they have experienced weight stigma at some point in their lives, and studies show its impacts could go far beyond self-esteem, such as wages lower and fewer opportunities in the workplace. Women are particularly affected, with some data indicating that a woman’s hourly wage can fall by nearly 2% for every unit increase in BMI.
In most parts of the country, there are no laws that explicitly prohibit this type of discrimination. If someone feels they’ve been treated unfairly because of their height, there’s little legal recourse, said Rebecca Puhl, a clinical psychologist who teaches at the University of Connecticut and whose research focuses on bullying, prejudice and weight discrimination.
In 2013, for example, a New Jersey judge ruled that an Atlantic City casino was allowed to fire its “Borgata babe” waitresses if they failed to maintain what the companies considered an acceptable weight. Only the state of Michigan and a handful of American cities, such as San Francisco; Madison, Wis.; and Urbana, Illinois, prohibit discrimination based on weight. Washington State considers obesity a disability, which means that anyone who qualifies as obese is protected by Washington law against discrimination.
According to Abreu, there’s “a cultural tidal wave now that’s really forcing this in its time.” Researchers and advocates agree.
Puhl, who has tracked public support for laws banning weight discrimination for more than a decade, said the momentum is “growing” to enact such policies.
“To what is this attributable, it is difficult to say. It could be issues like increased awareness of weight stigma,” Puhl said. “We are seeing a more vocal body positivity movement, which is also helping to raise awareness for this. There is a growing awareness that this is a legitimate problem for which political remedies are appropriate.
In San Francisco, the law, in force since 2000, forced a fitness studio to stop requiring its teachers to “look thinner than the public”.
And in Michigan, the first state to pass the law in 1976, “rates of weight discrimination, especially for women, have declined,” Puhl said. “This legislation is a very important preventative strategy as it tells employers they need to make sure they don’t treat their employees differently because of their size.”
If the bill becomes law in New York, complaints about height discrimination would be filed with the city’s Human Rights Commission. A lawyer would review the file and there would be an investigation. “And that’s how any other protected class is handled, just like other features are protected. These cases of height and weight discrimination will be judged in the same way,” Abreu said.
Both Abreu and Puhl recognize that the law has limits. Discrimination based on characteristics such as race and gender has been illegal for decades, but these problems remain invasive.
Civil rights laws aren’t a panacea, but they have helped other stigmatized groups and reduced inequality, Puhl said.
“Did he eliminate them entirely? No, but it contributed in a very important way,” added Puhl. “If New York City passes this bill, it will be a significant step forward. And it will provide a model and an example for not only other cities, but also other states to follow.
For Singh, the law offers a future with less uncertainty and distress.
“It’s going to be a while between the law being passed and the world being a little safer,” Singh said. “But it’s hard for me to put into words how painful it is to know that right now it’s legal to discriminate in this way.”