New York City Bans Appearance-Based Discrimination

Updated May 30, 2023

New York City Mayor Eric Adams enacted an anti-discrimination law on May 26 banning discrimination based on an individual’s height or weight when it comes to employment, housing or access to public accommodations.  With the new legislation, residents of New York City will be able to bring claims of discrimination related to their physical appearance before the New York City Commission on Human Rights, a local agency responsible for examining cases of discrimination and harassment.

The bill, sponsored by Manhattan Democratic Councilman Shaun Abreu, will be effective on Nov. 22, 2023. Prior to that date, employers must review their official policies to ensure that they do not include discriminatory practices against height and weight The law includes an exemption for positions where a certain height and weight are required to complete the functions of the job, as stated in federal, state or local law, or if permitted by the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

New York State legislators are aiming to pass a similar bill on the state level, which would prohibit weight and height discrimination across the state. Other states, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey, are considering similar legislation in their respective states.

Michigan is currently the only state that bans height and weight discrimination, and only three US cities already have an ordinance in place to ban appearance-based discrimination – San Francisco, California; Madison, Wisconsin; and Urbana, Illinois.

Mayor Eric Adams said the passage of this bill is a significant step towards eliminating appearance-based discrimination in New York City.

“It shouldn’t matter how tall you are or how much you weigh when you’re looking for a job, are out on the town, or trying to rent an apartment,” he said. “This law will help level the playing field for all New Yorkers, create more inclusive workplaces and living environments, and protect against discrimination.”

Weight Discrimination: The Issue of the Future?

Weight Discrimination AttorneysWhat do you think of when you think “employment discrimination?” The major civil rights victories of the 1960s are characteristically thought of as racial battles. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was seen largely as a victory for Americans of color. The Act was preceded in 1963 by the Equal Pay Act, which sought to guarantee equal pay for women. Both laws include broad, sweeping reform in terms of race, gender, nationality and religion.
In the 2010s, it appears as if new civil rights issues are finally culminating in American culture, especially the legal system. This coming election will be key to the future of gay rights, the most talked about social issue of the day.
One other civil rights issue is emerging, however, that was rarely spoken of in the 1960s: obesity. With claims of discrimination based on weight and size on the rise, what’s the future of civil rights for overweight Americans?

Is it Legal to Discriminate Based on Weight?

Currently, there are no laws on the books which protect the obese from discrimination. However, it is becoming common to use the Civil Rights Act of 1991 as a platform for obesity rights. The law opens the possibility for obesity-related discrimination cases along several metrics. For instance, if an individual was discriminated against, and his/her obesity is disease-related, then illegal discrimination may have taken place. Obesity discrimination may or may not be race related in some cases, as obesity rates are statistically higher among Latinos and African Americans.

Did Title VII Leave Obese Individuals Out?

There’s no question that obesity is on the rise in the United States. There’s very little question that popular culture in the U.S. glorifies the skinny, the healthy, and the glamorous. It is profoundly ironic to see advertisements for popular fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. featuring supermodels with hamburgers—and it is profoundly illustrative of America’s double standard in terms of exploitation of–and discrimination against–the obese.

The Exception to the Rule

One state in the Union protects against obesity-related discrimination: Michigan. Conversely, the state also passed a law protecting fast food restaurants from being sued over obesity. Other states are known to have considered enacting laws protecting the obese.
If you feel you have been discriminated against because of your weight, especially in the realm of employment, you should consider your legal options. Call the law offices of Valli Kane & Vagnini today for a free consultation.