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Rudd Radar

Legal Developments to Protect Obese Individuals from Discrimination

April 18, 2013

Obese individuals have reported discrimination in employment based on their weight, yet there is little legal recourse. Currently it is not illegal to discriminate against a person based on their weight except in a limited number of jurisdictions.

Victims of weight discrimination have unsuccessfully sought legal justice through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (collectively, the ADA), which protect against discrimination based on mental or physical disabilities in various settings including the workplace. However, a recent amendment to the ADA will have a positive impact on weight-based discrimination, according to researchers from the Rudd Center in a paper published in the journal Obesity.

The amendment to the ADA, known as the ADA Amendments Act, expands the definition of what constitutes a disability and incorporates a broad view of the ADA’s coverage. Due to the amendment, courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now protect severely obese people from discrimination based on actual or perceived disability in the employment context. Despite this positive development, the ADA Amendments Act will not similarly protect overweight or moderately obese people in the disability context. Further, people who suffer from weight-based discrimination outside the disability context remain unprotected.

Previous research published in the journal Obesity showed that American adults are in favor of legislation to prohibit weight discrimination, particularly in the workplace. The authors recommend the implementation of a “Weight Discrimination in Employment Act” to adequately address pervasive and damaging discrimination towards obese individuals in the workplace.

The paper is co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Director of Legal Initiatives, Jennifer Pomeranz, JD, MPH, and Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives.