Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Weight Discrimination" & Parallel Cases

In a Boston Globe op-ed today, "Jumping the gun on weight discrimination," the authors (both employment lawyers) worry about a bill now in the Mass. legislature which would outlaw discrimination on the basis of weight. Their concerns over a new protected class of people based on "weight" apply equally to a class defined by "sexual orientation", or "gender identity and expression"! They point out:
  • Weight is not clearly defined in the bill.
  • Since weight is not an immutable characteristic, it is not "worthy of protected status on par with an individual's race or sex."
  • Enactment of the weighty bill "would divert scarce state resources from serious issues."
  • "A basic tenet of American law has been that businesses have had the freedom to choose employees and those with whom they wish to deal."
  • "The burden this proposed legislation would put on employers, landlords, and others in commerce, would be substantial. It is no answer to state that a defendant who can establish that discrimination did not occur will be exonerated by the court system. Defense costs in discrimination cases are astronomical, win or lose."
  • People who truly suffer a weight disability -- if their obesity "has a physical cause" and "limits their life activities" -- are already protected by disability laws, and can seek accommodations.
  • There is no proven discrimination against this (however loosely defined) class of people.
Maybe these attorneys would like to join us in our concerns over other protected groups, defined by undefined phrases -- "sexual orientation" (already enshrined in our laws), and "gender identity and expression" (pending as a bill). If they think the weight bill is crazy, they should check out the "Transgender Rights and Hate Crimes Bill."