New Jersey Woman Tries to Tip Scales of Justice

December 18, 2002 ( - Abbe Favocci is taking her chance at weighing in on Weight Watchers' decision to fire her as a meeting leader after she put on extra pounds while being treated for colon cancer.

The New Jersey woman claims the giant diet company discriminated against her and now has the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights on her side, according to a Newark Star Ledger news report.

In finding probable cause to Favocci’s discrimination charges, the state will take on her fight to clarify laws governing weight issues when they are connected to a disability, J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the Division on Civil Rights, told the Star Ledger.

A Weight Watchers attorney said the company stands by its assertion that adherence to its weight compliance standards is an essential job requirement for its leaders.

With the division’s findings, the state and Weight Watchers will try to negotiate some kind of settlement. If they cannot reach an agreement, the matter will go to an administrative law judge for a hearing, the Star Ledger said.

Hired at the Livingston-based Weight Watchers of North Jersey in the mid-1990s, Favocci worked as a leader, facilitating meetings for groups of people trying to slim down, Vespa-Papaleo said.

Cancer Therapy Sparks Weight Gain

In January 2000, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent chemotherapy and prescription drug treatments, with weight gain as one of the side effects. In all, she put on nearly 20 pounds more than Weight Watchers compliance standards, Vespa-Papaleo told the newspaper.

By September 2000, she asked to be exempted from those weight standards because of her medical condition, according to the complaint. Rather than excuse her, the company a month later gave her an administrative position that allowed her to work from home but have no contact with clients, the state’s complaint said.

The company also suggested she take a leave of absence until she could meet that weight compliance goal because her job as a leader required that she be “first and foremost a role model to Weight Watchers clients by maintaining her weight goal,” according to the complaint.

Besides the steroids as a reason for weight gain, Favocci, 48, was taking other medication that caused her to be nauseated and lethargic. The only way to relieve her constant nausea was to eat, her physician wrote to Weight Watchers, according to the Star Ledger.

On June 1, 2001, Favocci was fired because she had gained too much weight, Vespa-Papaleo said. He said he did not know the compliance goal or Favocci’s weight when she was fired.

“Our position is that an employer cannot terminate someone’s employment due to weight gain when the weight gain is clearly a result of cancer and the employee is otherwise capable of performing the work,” Vespa-Papaleo told the newspaper.