A former waitress at a Hooters restaurant in Michigan has charged the chain with discrimination — because her bosses asked her to lose weight so she could better fit into a skimpier costume.
According to a story in the Grand Rapids Press, 20-year-old Cassandra Smith claims Hooters — a chain known for its, uh, shapely young waitresses in abbreviated attire — put her on 30 days’ “weight probation.” The reason? Her supervisors wanted her to “better fit into an extra-small uniform.”
Smith quit and filed suit for weight discrimination.
Such a claim would be futile in most parts of the country. There are no federal laws barring discriminating against employees on the basis of their weight.
But there’s one state that does specifically outlaw such discrimination: Michigan. So Smith has a shot at getting back at her employer.
Food for thought
Odd as this case undoubtedly is, it does raise some interesting questions.
Should a person’s weight and/or appearance be added to the categories protected by anti-bias laws?
Employment attorney Gavin Appleby of the law firm Littler Mendelson says there are some very real reasons to be concerned about such laws. Such as:
- Studies suggest that personal appearance and weight discrimination are real and significant issues
- “Personal appearance” and “weight” are incredibly difficult concepts to pin down — making employer policies and enforcement a potential nightmare
- Most characteristics covered by discrimination law — race, gender, age — are not subjects of choice. That might not be the case in weight discrimination disputes, and
- Weight discrimination, taken to its ultimate maximum, could mean everything from too fat, too thin, too unattractive, or too dangerous in certain jobs. Personal appearance discrimination is simply indefinable.
Appleby adds that “weight issues, in particular, put employers in a very difficult position. While there is no question that weight bias exists, there also is little doubt that obesity causes an increase in lost time, health insurance costs, and, less often, safety problems. As a result, employers may have a legitimate concern about the productivity and safety of some overweight employees. That again makes weight discrimination different from race and gender, where no insurance or other similar costs are incurred from an employer’s compliance with the law of nondiscrimination.” For a fuller discussion of the issue, go here.
What do you think? Should there be a federal law barring appearance/weight discrimination? Weigh in in the Comments section below.