William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice
Given Equal Weight Under the Law: Expanding Title VII Protections to Prohibit Weight Discrimination
Approximately half of Americans have an overweight or obese body mass index (BMI), yet weight discrimination is legal in nearly every jurisdiction. This means employers can set BMI limits, maximum weights, waist sizes, and more with no legal consequences. This Note examines the history of anti-fat bias and weight discrimination and how that motivates weight discrimination in employment and in the law generally. It then discusses possible solutions. Currently, most scholars propose prohibiting weight discrimination on a state level through legislation similar to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act or on a federal level by recognizing obesity as a disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This Note proposes prohibiting weight discrimination by adding “weight” as a category protected under Title VII. As the cases discussed in this Note demonstrate, this is the most efficient and effective way to protect fat and non-fat employees alike from experiencing weight discrimination in the workplace. This Note discusses how Title VII would enable fat employees, in particular, to allege weight discrimination without needing to either prove that their weight physically disables them or having their weight deemed disabling regardless of its impact on their abilities. Employers should not be able to refuse to hire or to terminate an employee because of harmful stereotypes about fat people. Prohibiting weight discrimination on a federal level through Title VII would be an important step towards creating more inclusive work environments for all.