Massachusetts Considers Weight Discrimination Law

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a weight discrimination law to follow the lead of Michigan in protecting people from employment discrimination based on weight and height. At a hearing Tuesday, representatives of the Obesity Society, the Obesity Action Coalition, the Binge Eating Disorders Association, and local advocates for people affected by obesity testified about the burden of bias and discrimination that people with obesity face.

Scott Butsch, an obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of the Obesity Society’s Advocacy Committee, testified that his patients get a clear picture of the discrimination they’ve faced only after surgery, when they lose large amounts of weight. He said in his testimony:

School teachers, opera singers, store managers, lawyers and other professionals discuss how they surprisingly experienced more responsibilities, more opportunities, and job promotions after losing weight. What is most striking is the fact that this occurs in some patients less than one year after they had weight loss surgery.

Melinda Watman, of the Obesity Action Coalition, and Nicole Sullivan, a local advocate for people affected by obesity, both spoke passionately from personal experience of being judged not by their talents and merit, but by their body size.

Ted Kyle, Vice-Chair of the Obesity Action Coalition and Advocacy Chair for the Obesity Society, spoke to questions about the impact of the Michigan weight discrimination law. Said Kyle:

Some had predicted a flood of complaints when the legislation passed in 1977. That has not been the case. In fact, very few cases have been brought. One unexpected result, though, has been a lower rate of discrimination against women in Michigan than is seen in the rest of the country. These new data come from a study to be published shortly by researchers at Michigan State.

Denying people jobs and advancement because of the size of their bodies is nothing more or less than a stupid waste of economic and human potential. You go, Massachusetts!

Click here to read the text of the legislation, H.1758.

Massachusetts, photograph © Coralie Mercier / flickr

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