Texans wear the slogan "Everything's Bigger in
Texas" with pride. Whether it's big hair, big chicken
fried steak, or Big Tex, who says bigger ain't always better in
Texas? One Texas hospital tried to say otherwise, and soon ate its
In April, the hospital made national news after it was sued over
its hiring policy barring potential employees who are obese. The
hospital quickly reversed its policy amidst outrage fueled by
national news sources denouncing the policy as discrimination
against the obese.
But, legally, this Texas-sized ban was not discriminatory. In
Texas, employers cannot discriminate because of race, color,
national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. However, like
the majority of other states, Texas does not ban weight
discrimination. Additionally, there is no federal law specifically
prohibiting obesity discrimination. Some obese individuals have
argued, however, that their weight can be considered a disability
for purposes of the ADA.
The ADA protects job applicants and employees from disability
discrimination. Under the ADA, to qualify as a person with a
disability, the applicant/employee must have a physical or mental
impairment that substantially limits one or more major life
activities. Working, among other things, is a major life
While obesity itself is generally not an impairment, morbid
obesity, meaning body weight of more than 100% over the norm, is a
disability if the applicant/employee shows the physical impairment
substantially limits a major life activity. Additionally, these
individuals may have other conditions related to their obesity,
such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or a heart condition, that
may be protected.
While heftiness is not, itself, a protected class, employers can
reduce their litigation risks by avoiding explicit weight bans.
After all, bigger employees may not always be better, but lawsuits
ALWAYS exact their pound of flesh.
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