Bay State Lawmaker Tries to Combat Fat Worker Abuse

September 30, 2003 ( - Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing wants Bay State laws to prevent workplace discrimination against overweight employees.

>But Rushing isn’t hopeful that his bill to amend the state’s anti-discrimination laws to cover height and size bias will ever become law; he knows bias against the obese is just too strong, according to a Boston Globe report.

>At the moment, neither Massachusetts nor federal antibias laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protect obese or overweight people from workplace discrimination. The exception: when a charge of appearance or size discrimination is related to age, sex or racial bias, categories that are protected by state and federal statutes.

”This is one of the only groups where an employer could say, ‘We don’t want fat people,’ and get away with it,” Rushing told the Globe ”Fat people are still targets. Professional comedians can still make fun of them, and fat jokes are still being passed around.”

>Observers say efforts like Rushing’s are badly needed. Myrna Marofsky, president of ProGroup, a Minneapolis diversity consulting firm, told the Globe that overweight workers are often overlooked for promotions and uninvited to client presentations even when they’ve done all of the work. Add other biases such as race, gender, ethnicity, and age to that situation and the issue can be magnified tenfold.

Size Bias Training

>Marofsky expanded her company’s services this year to include a training forum on size discrimination. The firm, which has done other forms of diversity training for clients like Deloitte & Touche, General Mills, and Saks Fifth Avenue, hopes to use its videotaped vignettes to show corporate clients how overweight people are treated at work and to heighten awareness of the problem.

”Size generates subtle biases as well as blatant ones,” Marofsky, said. ”You might hear, ‘If she would just lose 25 pounds, she would have a better chance at that promotion.’ ”

>Protests by groups like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance as well as a flurry of recent lawsuits have led to greater awareness of the problems the overweight face in the workplace. Some of the lawsuits seek to create new legal ground by arguing that obesity ought to be seen as an impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

>While there is little data available detailing the extent of size bias, Deidra Everett, secretary of the New England Chapter of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, believes there have been a few changes in society’s view of the overweight. ”Society has changed its image a little when it comes to smaller large people,” Everett told the newspaper. ”It is more accepted now that a woman can be a size 12 through 18 and still be fit. Also, in the media, the whole extreme leanness [trend] is not as popular as it was six or seven years ago. So, the media is trying to show that curves can be OK.”

Neither the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination nor the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission track size lawsuits, but employment lawyers believe the filings are up. They say companies would do well to establish guidelines or policies banning such discriminatory treatment in the workplace.