Is Weight Watchers Biased Against the Overweight?
Lynae Remondino lost 118 lbs. and seven dress sizes, and she credits Weight Watchers with some of that. But Weight Watchers won't credit her efforts enough to hire her as a national trainer. Even though Remondino is an educator by profession and has taught thousands of people in hundreds of classes, she was told in no uncertain terms that her body mass index is too high -- in other words, she's just too darn heavy to work for the international weight loss giant.
This from the same people who hired Jennifer Hudson as their national spokesperson. "I can't help but question their integrity," Remondino says. "This is a company that is all about relating to people who are overweight and trying to help them -- they just choose not to hire those same people they've helped." Not even for behind-the-scenes work, apparently.
"All right, I admit it, I'm still a big girl, but I went from a size 24 to a size 12, which is a size smaller than the average American woman," Remondino notes. "It's not as if I'd be the national face of the company."
The position she applied for was not a public one in which she'd be working with clients; she'd be running training programs for Weight Watchers employees. Her duties would include teaching in classrooms, holding webinars, giving computer-based training and creating an upbeat, fun and motivating training environment. These are Remondino's proven strengths, and she has years of experience training people in customer service, sales and leadership.
But it appears that Weight Watchers doubted her ability to "provide professional leadership and serve as a positive role model." There was that one line in the list of key skills and behaviors that said, "Maintenance of weight within two pounds of the body mass index (BMI) healthy weight goal range." Remondino admits not having noticed that line when she applied for the job. Even if she had, since she's perfectly healthy -- works out nearly every other day and is the same weight as she was when she was 18 -- she didn't think it would make much of a difference.
A weighty question
Remondino's BMI turned out to make a huge difference, and ended up being the deal breaker. She had applied to a job posting online for a National Trainer at Weight Watchers, and when the hiring official saw her credentials, she was so excited she called her within half an hour of receiving her e-mail. "Things were going really well. I've taught classes on interview skills and have strong people skills, so I know when there's good chemistry," said Remondino, who noted that the interviewer even read her the current trainers' schedules, so she would know what hers would be like.
It was when the interviewer got to the BMI question when things headed south. Remondino questioned the legal grounds for asking this, but provided her height and weight so that the interviewer could calculate her BMI. "I've kept my weight off for five years and I'm in good shape, partially thanks to Weight Watchers. I thought the fact that I'd shared with the interviewer that they'd helped me lose 118 lbs. would only be in my favor."
Not so. At that point, Remondino was told she would not be able to continue the interview process, but that she should call back if she ever reached the Weight Watchers BMI standard. Remondino shared with the interviewer that she wished her luck in finding the right candidate, but that she would most likely never be that weight and was content as she was. "What's wrong with a healthy size 12?" she wonders.
"They didn't even meet me -- they couldn't see that I'm engaging, that I carry myself with confidence, that I shake hands and look people in the eye, and that I truly walk their walk."
Yes, but is it a legal matter?
Remondino has no intention of filing a lawsuit, and understands she would have no legal recourse even if she wanted to. But she's concerned about the message this experience is sending. "What are we teaching our children with this kind of behavior?" she asks. "You have to be a certain size and fit into a certain mold not just to be considered pretty, but to even get a job. This is the kind of behavior that encourages eating disorders."
What she thought was a blessing turned out to be a curse. Remondino had been laid off from her training position with a major corporation about a year prior, and was making ends meet with contract work, but had just learned that the project would be cut short. "I thought this Weight Watchers opportunity, no matter how it turned out, was a sign that everything was going to be all right."
Instead, she's been substantially demoralized. All that hard work and effort to lose the weight of "a whole other me" seems to have been for nothing. "All that talk of wanting to help people who are overweight doesn't seem very sincere when they penalize you for not being their idea of the perfect size," she says.
But, with her innate sense of optimism, she's not going to let this experience define her. She's turning down proffered legal advice and getting on with her job search. "I just hope Weight Watchers rethinks their policies after this," she says. She says she's sure they had no idea of the damage they could do, but hopes that now they are a bit more now.
You can hear Remondino talk about her experience on ClearChannel's Hot 99.5 in Washington, D.C.
Weight Watchers Weighs In
Weight Watchers provided the following statement to AOL Jobs:
Weight Watchers commends the success that Ms. Remondino has had in losing weight and adopting healthy habits, and she should feel great about her personal accomplishments. Since its inception almost 50 years ago, it has been a fundamental principle of Weight Watchers that its service providers (including those in positions to lead, support, train and motivate service providers and interact with Weight Watchers members) reflect the Weight Watchers philosophy by adopting a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy body weight. Weight Watchers defines a healthy body weight in accordance with current global health recommendations as a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the range of 20 to 25. For those individuals with a BMI between 25 and 27, Weight Watchers requires a doctor's note indicating that the individual is at a healthy weight. We sincerely regret if this was not fully conveyed or was not communicated in a supportive manner to Ms. Remondino.
Related Stories from Forbes.com
- Weight Watchers Looks a Little Too Porky
- The World's Healthiest Diets
- Is Your Weight Affecting Your Career?
Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want. Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets. Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.