Weight Discrimination: Obesity Is More Than Just Health Problems

Obese individuals discrimination. Isn’t that illegal? Do we have laws protecting against weight discrimination?

A recent Wall Street Journal article, entitled: Weigh More, Pay More on Samoa Air, reports that a tiny South Pacific airline is pioneering a radical pricing model that no other airline has dared to try: charging passengers based on their weight.

Samoa Air customers flying on short international distances are set to pay US $ 0.92 per kilogram for each flight.

According to the World Health Organization, about 55.5% of the country’s population over the age of 20 is considered obese, what explains why passenger weight is the matter of great importance for Samoa Air, which operates with smaller planes that seat between three and 10 passengers each. That means a grossly fat passenger could essentially reduce a plane’s capacity, which in its turn could cause a loss of company’s income.

“We are like a shopkeeper; we are selling weight. But with the weight goes the responsibility of being able to seat the passenger comfortably,” said Samoa Air Chief Executive Chris Langton to The Wall Street Journal. He paid attention to the fact that while a 160-kilogram person on Samoa Air will pay four times as much as a 40 kilogram person, the airline would ensure more space for the bigger passenger.

The change caused heated discussion on Samoa Air’s Facebook page, where many called for a boycott of the airline based on discrimination. There were others who absolutely commended the company for its decision on charging by weight.

While Samoa Air could wake up the profit-starved industry, many of the world’s airlines have so far been hesitating to gain advantage from passenger weight because of discrimination concerns.

There is no doubt that a great number of Americans are obese. According to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012, a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health, half of all American adults are expected to be obese by 2030.before

The social consequences of obesity include discrimination in employment, barriers in education, biased attitudes from health care professionals, stereotypes in the media, and stigma in interpersonal relationships.

As most cases involving weight are employment discrimination cases, and many of them are unsuccessful, in an article by Donna Ballman entitled: Is Weight Discrimination At Work Illegal?, are reported the top ways you might be protected under the law against discrimination if you’re overweight:

1. Disability DiscriminationThe Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from discrimination due to disabilities. EEOC considers morbid obesity to be a protected disability. If your life activity is essentially limited because of your weight, then you may be protected against discrimination.

Overweight people who are not “morbidly obese” but who experience weight discrimination cannot file claims under the ADA because they are not considered disabled. These unresolved issues, along with public perceptions that blame obese people for their own negative experiences, result in inconsistent court rulings and deter other overweight people from seeking legal recourse at all.

2. Sex Discrimination – Very often, women are expected to be slim but men aren’t. If your employer is holding women to different standards than men (or vice versa) then they may be guilty of sex discrimination.

3. Family and Medical Leave – If you need medical treatment because of your weight problems, you may be protected for days you miss work under the Family and Medical Leave Act. You can get protected leave for each of your doctor’s appointments, for up to a total of 12 weeks per year. You can use both intermittent and continuous FMLA leave as your doctor requires.

4. State and Local Laws – Very few, but nevertheless, some states and municipalities have limitations on appearance or weight discrimination (for example, Michigan has a state law).

However, if you are in none of the protected categories above, that all changes, and you have to fight your battles alone. Despite increased attention to the obesity epidemic, little has been done to stop the discrimination that obese people face every day. No federal laws exist to prohibit bullying and harassment against obese people. Many forms of discrimination are perfectly legal.

However, some of these “legal” kinds of discrimination may also have an illegal effect. Try to look around and see if what’s happening is really about sex, race, age, disability, pregnancy, national origin, or some other type of illegal discrimination.

Obesity is an extremely complex condition and it’s going to require many different solutions.