Only one state in the nation has a law that bans discrimination based on weight. Now, two former Hooters waitresses are attempting to take advantage of that law.
The two women from Michigan have filed weight discrimination lawsuits against Hooters of America, Inc., claiming they’d been fired for not being thin enough. They brought the suit under the state’s civil rights act, officially known as the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Since 1976, the Act—which also prohibits employment practices that discriminate on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy), disability, genetic information, and marital status—has banned discrimination based on height or weight.
The article stated that the height and weight bans came after women told lawmakers that they couldn’t secure employment “in auto, police and fire jobs that men dominated because of height standards.” While no other states have adopted a ban on weight discrimination, five cities—San Francisco (CA), Santa Cruz (CA), Urbana (IL), Birmingham (NY), Madison (WI)—and Washington, D.C., have similar bans on the books, according to the Free Press.
Interestingly, very few individuals have filed a weight discrimination suit under the state law according to the article and, as explained by University of Michigan law Professor J.J. Prescott, “While plaintiffs have been alleging discrimination on the basis of weight for some time, there is very little case law interpreting that specific provision.”
This case raises the question of whether an employer has the right to base an employment decision based on an individual’s appearance. As noted in the article, some legal experts note that for some occupations—such as actors and models—appearance can be a legitimate factor for an employer’s hiring decisions. Should weight requirements for Hooter girls fall under this kind of exception?
“I guess what the basis of the lawsuit is, what a Hooters girl looks like matters everywhere in the United States except Michigan,” said Mike NcNeil, Hooters’ vice president of marketing. “I'm here to tell you it matters what they look like in Michigan as well.”
Richard Bernstein, an attorney who represents the former waitresses, sees it differently: “This really is the cornerstone of civil rights: You can't discriminate based on appearance,” he said.
Detroit Free Press (Freep.com)