Should Making Fun Of A Co-Worker's Weight Be Illegal?

Deborah Marks was a New York telemarketer, and a damn good one. She received outstanding reviews, a series of prizes, and was named "Telemarketer of the Year." Marks hoped to move into a sales rep position, but when promotion time came, another woman got the job. "Deb, I've told you," her boss allegedly said to her, "outside sales, presentation is extremely important. Lose the weight and you will get promoted." Marks weighed 270 pounds.

Marks filed a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination, because the other woman was chosen for being "thin" and "cute," in her boss' supposed words, and men weren't judged in the same way. She lost her case because she couldn't point to an overweight male salesperson as an example.

Both women and men who are fired, or refused a job or promotion because of their weight, are left in murky legal terrain. There are no laws banning discrimination against fat people, so women can either sue for sex discrimination, claiming beauty standards aren't applied equally, or obese individuals can sue for disability discrimination, claiming that their weight is a significant enough problem to be protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

But there's no recourse if an employer discriminates against applicants or employees for being overweight, if men and women are equal victims. And this kind of discrimination happens all the time.
Consider this:

  • "Very thin" women earn $22,000 more than their average-bodied counterparts, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
  • If a very thin woman gains 25 pounds, she suffers an average salary drop of $15,500, that study found.
  • If an obese woman loses weight, she shouldn't expect a pay raise. According to a new study from University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of Manchester and Monash University, people are also prejudiced against women who slim up.

The researchers, reports, had young men and women read stories about three different women: one who was thin, one who was obese, and one who was now thin having just lost around 70 pounds. Afterward, the participants rated the woman's attractiveness, and their views on fat people. The result: People disliked the woman who lost the weight the most.

"The strength of obesity stigma is so powerful, pervasive and persistent," lead researcher Janet Latner told "[Our results show] just how strong and harmful it can be. Many people are seeking weight loss to shake off the sting of obesity, and they may not necessarily achieve that.

"We really need public policies that combat obesity stigma," Latner concluded.

The call for government intervention on this issue is getting louder, with almost 70 percent of the American people over age 20 now overweight or obese. A parliamentary group and charity in the United Kingdom just drafted a report, which proposed amending the country's anti-discrimination law to add weight or appearance as a protected class, alongside race, gender, age, religion, disability and sexual orientation.

The report found that 1 in 5 people had been victimized because of their weight, reports Britain's The Telegraph newspaper, but it added that more research needs to be done to assess the scale of the problem. If weight became protected like race or gender, then taunting someone as "fat" could become illegal harassment.

Silence about a person's weight could be dangerous, however, if individuals "don't know the medical consequences that result from their fatness," according to Tam Fry, of the U.K.'s National Obesity Forum. "Doctors must be able to give them 'tough love' and tell them they are overweight or obese."

Most people could probably tell the difference, though, between a doctor cautioning you on your BMI and your boss saying you're not "cute" enough for a promotion.

Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now

More From AOL Jobs

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Georgia A McD

Being obese can keep a person from doing a job well and we do live in a society where it isn't appealing. This could be a problem for a business. People who are obese are hurting themselves healthwise as well. Cutting down on eating would be a great start for anyone overweight. That's what I have to do.

May 31 2012 at 1:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Voice...How do you know whether or not a person is taking care of his/her body? You seem to think you know why a person is obese, but yet have you walked in their shoes? Have you lived their lives? Should fat people assume that every skinny person is an anorexic? Should fat people assume that all thin people don't eat enough? Is that fair to those who aren't anorexic? Is it fair to those who do eat, but yet cannot gain weight cause of an issue they have?

People see a fat person in a wheel chair and the first thing they assume is..."Wow! Look at the fat slob! He/she obviously got that way from eating McDonald's all the time (Excuse me, how do you know that? Do you know everything? Do you live with this person day and night and watch what they eat? No? Didn't think so.)" Another judgement would be, "See that fat chic over there? She must not exercise! Fatty!" Hmm. How do you know? People who are obese don't just drop off the weight in 2 secs. How do you know that that obese man or woman isn't trying to lose the weight?

That the whole no one knows...No one can claim he/she knows why every fat person is the way he/she is...when such knows nothing of their lives or their past or anything. Nor can anyone claim to say that such and such fat person is NOT exercising or trying to eat right just by appearances.

Also a person can be real skinny...but yet it be mostly fat and little muscle.

In short...don't judge what you don't know.

May 31 2012 at 12:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Between Hollywood and fashion magazines, they've got the whole country thinking that everyone has to be perfect! Every commercial on TV is aimed at making you feel BAD about yourself so you'll spend money with that company. Don't be bald, fat, big nosed, weak chined, wrinkled, flat chested! Don't you dare have anything but blinding white, straight teeth! How dare a guy not have good muscle tone! How can that woman walk around in public with thin lips and sparce eye lashes! They've gotten everyone so hung up on their looks that half these people don't realize they are just falling into that mind warping money trap! The companies will do and say anything to make you feel bad so you'll spend money on their products and procedures. NOBODY IS PERFECT! But the companies sure like to make you THINK you can be!

May 31 2012 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I worked for a Dr that only had female assistants. Those of us that were overweight got harassed daily, either on our clothes or our performance in the office. The thinner girls were treated like her best friends and they collectively looked for ways to make us miserable. She even told one girl that her hair looked messy and that along with her weight made her come across as incompetent. She had her tell her how she did her hair every morning. ?? She even told the patients that she put in exercise equipment because some of us were fat. After 2.5 years of this I quit and ironically lost 40 pounds and have been stress free. I keep waiting on karma to kick her ass.

May 31 2012 at 11:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scmarinemom's comment

I've been waiting for karma to kick Charlie Manson ass for over 40 years, hasn't happened yet.

May 31 2012 at 11:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When I was in basic training, some of us were skinny, some others were fat, I don't think any of us were the ideal size. We all ate the same diet, did the same exercise, slept the same hours. Guess what! We skinny guys gained weight, the fat guys lost weight. What do you make of that?

May 31 2012 at 11:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I worked with a man that was about 150lbs. over weight, that claimed he could exercise because his legs and ankles couldn't stand his weight. I told him "Sure you can, just start with three repetitions a day of pushing away from the table." I don't think he ever did though.

May 31 2012 at 11:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to limstillme's comment

CORRECTION: "...claimed he could not exercise because his legs and ankles couldn't stand his weight....."

May 31 2012 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I didn't see you. You were standing sideways. Maybe you can borrow Maria's (6 years old) sweater? Here's a few dollars. Have an extra Big Mac on me.
Don't think it's just overweight people.

May 31 2012 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jh72hockeymom's comment

In high school, I was too skinny too play foot ball, too short to play basket ball, we didn't have a base ball team, and running in circles didn't appeal to me so I didn't go out for track. It was all good though, I didn't much care about sports anyway, and motorcycles and girls kept me busy.

May 31 2012 at 11:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If she was excellent at her job, that company lost out on a lot of revenue! Facing reality, we are a looks-oreinted society, especially in sales, whether we like it or not. However, ability trumps looks when it comes to making money!!

May 31 2012 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to auntiekgs's comment

Your logic applies to most areas of business but not to areas where that person represents the company to the customers. Fair or not, most people who are not overweight are unfavourably impressed by people who are, some are even offended by obesity. A salesman's/saleslady's first impression can be a deal killer. That's just a fact of life that sales people and PR people have to live or die with.

May 31 2012 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are many types of people who are discriminated against in the job market, not just over weight people. Ugly people, stupid people, lazy people, incompetent people, obnoxious people, dishonest people, just to list a few. Does it make sense to pass over a person who is likely to succeed and hire or promote someone doomed to fail? The employer can do the politically correct thing but he can't make his customers do it. Everyone, without exception, discriminates. An example, if we invite a friend or a group of friends to a social event, then we've discriminated against everyone else in the world that we did not invite.

May 31 2012 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to limstillme's comment

Also, you forgot if you don't fit in. I don't know how many promotions I had to fight for in my place.

May 31 2012 at 11:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Brava Tristalinn! Well said. I am with you.

May 31 2012 at 10:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web