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New York considers law to prohibit bias against overweight people

The city would join six other municipalities and two states that already explicitly protect against weight and height discrimination.

Torzo y piernas de un hombre con sobrepeso mientras come una hamburguesa sentado en un parque.

(Cordon Press)

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You will not discriminate because of weight or height. This is the shortened summary of a bill being considered by the New York City Council to prohibit discriminatory treatment in employment, access to housing and public accommodations.

Both "real" and "perceived" body measurements will appear in the city's administrative code next to already regulated conditions which one cannot discriminate against, such as physical or mental disability, uniformed service and religious beliefs.

Approval of the proposal will give "the power to eliminate and prevent discrimination" based on weight and height to the Human Rights Commission. This entity will control everything from job searches - sanctioning any weight or height limitation or specification - to dismissals. It should also ensure that a potential new employee is not lied to by being told that a certain position is no longer available or that there is no discriminatory treatment in terms of salary or other working conditions.

However, the rule provides for two exceptions. The first is that employers will be able to take height and weight into account if they are part of a "reasonably necessary professional qualifications for the normal operation of the business." The second is for operators or providers of public accommodations, who would be able to discriminate if the body's measures "qualify as considerations of public health and safety."

Regarding access to housing, tenants or sellers may not refuse to sign contracts nor may they discriminate in the terms of the contract, lie about availability or make publications with specifications on either of these two body measurements.

The bill is now before the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. According to the Washington Post, lawmakers will vote on whether to add it to the city's administrative code in the coming weeks.

Prohibit "discrimination based on body size"

"Everyone, including me, is affected by toxic attitudes toward size and weight," Democrat Shaun Abreu posted last week in defense of the bill. Abreu, who represents Manhattan's 7th district, is the main sponsor of the bill.

The Democratic representative defended in his last statements to the media that this was a civil rights issue that should have been addressed long ago. Last year he also presented a similar project, that time to prevent discrimination for having tattoos.

Behind the project is also Naafa (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) and Flare (Fat Legal Advocacy, Rights and Education) and, behind both of these organizations: the Dove company. The personal care product line of the multinational Unilever "supports" the "Campaign for Size Freedom", which seeks to "strengthen legal protection and shift cultural narratives about body size." On its website, Dove states that its ultimate goal is to "make body size discrimination illegal in the US."

An illness or a disability

Six municipalities and two states - Michigan and Washington - have protections similar to those being studied by the Big Apple. Four more states could join the list: New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey are considering similar laws.

Michigan includes weight as one of the protected categories in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976. In Washington, meanwhile, the Court ruled that obesity should be considered a disability - a disease even - and was therefore protected by state anti-discrimination law, even though it does not explicitly mention weight, according to NAAF.