Obesity Discrimination May Be Curbed

Limits on obesity discrimination may be one fortunate result of the recent AMA decision to address obesity as a disease. A number of observers are commenting that the AMA’s decision — though not binding in any way — will likely carry credibility with judges considering whether employment discrimination against people with obesity is acceptable under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Weight bias research has documented that people with obesity face considerable discrimination in the workplace. Christine Ferguson and colleagues at the George Washington University Department of Health Policy recently found that women with obesity may experience as much as a 15% income penalty. Men with obesity also experience a penalty, though it appears to be smaller.

Until recently, employment discrimination against people with with obesity has been legal in every state, except Michigan. Under 2010 amendments to the ADA, the EEOC has won some recent cases against employers discriminating against people with severe obesity.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Joe Palazzolo reports that employment lawyers believe the AMA decision will strengthen the case of people with obesity who are fired or blocked from advancement because of their condition.

The new AMA resolution states that obesity is “a disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention.”

Speaking on behalf of the Obesity Society’s Advocacy Committee, Ted Kyle commented:

Many people blame people with obesity for their condition, as if they have somehow chosen to have obesity. This is false. Just like any other disease, you might be able to point to something that someone did to contribute to their condition. But nobody deserves to suffer the effects of a chronic disease.

People find themselves with disabilities for all sorts of reasons. Some might be the result of one’s own mistakes, some are due to the mistakes of others, and some are just plain bad luck or bad genes. The point here is that what matters under the ADA is whether or not a person is qualified to do the job. If an employer discriminates against a qualified person because of a disability, that employer is acting unlawfully.

Click here to read more in the Wall Street Journal, click here to read more at Lawyers.com, click here to read more from Business Insider, and click here to read more about the pay penalty that people with obesity face.

You Must Be at Least This Tall, photograph © Chris Blakeley / flickr

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