That Again? Height and Weight Discrimination Bill is Back

A few years ago, a bill was introduced in Massachusetts that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of height and weight. Other than generating a few chuckles and general consternation, the bill went nowhere. But it seems the bill is back.

On July 29, the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development voted to advance House bill No. 1764, which would add the words “height” and “weight” to the list of protected categories under Chapter 151B, the state anti-discrimination law. Whether this will become law or not remains to be seen, but given all of the pressing issues in Massachusetts, is this one of them? I have never had a client call me up and say, “hey, I’ve got an employee who is taller than me and I hate looking up at him. Can I fire him?”

Now I understand and agree that on the extreme ends of the height and weight spectrum, there are legitimate concerns about discrimination. But this may already be covered under existing federal and state discrimination laws. Over the last couple of years, courts have been reassessing whether morbid obesity may constitute a disability. Plus, the law already protects individuals from discrimination because they are regarded as disabled. Thus, to the extent that an employer views an individual through the lens of some stereotype due to his or her extreme height or weight, the law seemingly covers that situation already.

None of this is to say that it is ever a good idea for employers to make hiring and firing decisions based on an individual’s height, weight or any other physical characteristic. It makes no business sense. But that does not mean that we need law on this.

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