Question:

I just lost my job and I think it is because of my weight. I worked in a clothing store and believe I always did a good job. I was an above average sized person when I was hired and I have recently gained additional weight. Before I was fired, my boss made comments about me not fitting in the aisles and being hard to walk around when I was working the register. My boss didn’t tell me my weight was why I was being fired but I think that was the reason. Do I have any recourse against my employer?

Answer:

As an initial matter, there is no federal or state law that specifically protects an individual from discrimination in employment based on the individual’s weight. Nonetheless, depending on the cause of your weight and if your employer perceived or regarded you as having a disability because of your weight, you may be able to make out a claim of disability discrimination. You may recall hearing about the case of Holly Hallstrom, one of the models from the Price is Right television show. Hallstrom claimed that she was terminated from the show because of her weight gain, amongst other things. The Court of Appeals in Hallstrom’s case issued an unpublished decision which is not binding in other courts but which provides possible insight as to how a court might analyze a similar set of facts.

The court in Hallstrom’s case initially observed that being overweight is generally not a protected medical condition. However, the court considered two factors before allowing Ms. Hallstrom to proceed with her case. First, the court looked to whether the weight gain was the result of voluntary action or inaction by the plaintiff. Essentially the court questioned whether there was a physiological, systemic basis for the condition. In Hallstrom’s case she provided evidence that the weight gain was caused by medication that she was required to take to correct a hormonal imbalance. On this basis, the court determined that Hallstrom’s weight was not a “self imposed condition resulting from her voluntary action or inaction” and therefore her condition could legally be considered a disability.

Second, the court looked to whether the employer perceived or regarded Hallstrom’s condition as a disability. Under both state and federal disability law not only are actual disabilities protected, but so are perceived disabilities. The question is whether the employer perceived the employee as having a disability and if the employer treated the employee differently on that basis. In Hallstrom’s case she produced evidence that the producers of the show perceived her as unfit for the job because of her weight.

Applying these principals to your situation, the key questions will be the cause of your weight gain and how your employer perceived you. If your weight gain was the result of involuntary action and if you can prove that your employer perceived you as having a disability because of your weight, you may have a viable claim of discrimination.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Back to Menu- Work Place Law 2004 Articles