A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this NPR piece. It’s about an incident in which film director Kevin Smith was expelled from a Southwest flight because of his weight and/or size. Of course, because of Mr. Smith’s celebrity status and his prolific Twittering, the incident became a popular news/blogging item (I Googled “Kevin Smith” and southwest and got 233,000 hits). The article inspired me to do a little searching on the legal literature regarding weight discrimination.
As far as I know, persons of a certain size or weight are generally not considered to be a protected class. Of the fifty states, only Michigan has a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of weight (the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976). A handful of municipalities have similar laws. The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination has a web page listing laws, ordinances and rulings relevant to weight discrimination.
Despite the lack of legislation, there is some legal literature discussing discrimination on the basis of size and weight. The literature tends to use the terms “weight discrimination,” “size discrimination,” “obesity discrimination” and more recently “fat rights.”
For an overview of the topic, I found the following sources to be quite helpful:
Weight Bias: Nature Consequences and Remedies, offers several articles on weight discrimination. Most of the articles are sociological/psychological in nature, but two articles: Legal Theory on Weight Discrimination by Elizabeth Theran; and Remedies for Weight-Based Discrimination by Sondra Solovay give a solid explanation of weight discrimination and current anti-discrimination laws.
The Fat Studies Reader includes several articles about weight discrimination in contemporary society. Of particular interest is an article titled No Apology: Shared Struggles in Fat and Transgender Law as well as an article discussing airlines and size limitations. The book also includes an Appendix entitled Legal Briefs which provides excerpts from laws and ordinances that prohibit discrimination on the basis of weight.
Anna Kirkland’s Fat Rights: Dilemma’s of Difference and Personhood examines anti-discrimination laws within the context of weight discrimination. Using her “logics of personhood” it offers an interesting analysis of how difference is treated in the legal system and how difference should be treated.
Finally, the Congressional Research Service Report titled Obesity Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act gives a good overview of cases in which weight discrimination was addressed using the ADA.
I hope to see even more literature on the topic in the coming years.
Edit: After posting this, my attention was directed to another place to find weight discrimination information: NAAFA, the National Association to Advanced Fat Acceptance. They have a page dedicated to laws on weight discrimination –including legislation awaiting action, as well as a fantastic reading list. I highly recommend the NAAFA web site for getting started with weight discrimination research.