Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your height or weight? A pending Massachusetts bill may provide legal claims for those who are treated differently because of the size or shape of their body.
Massachusetts looks to join the only two other other states — Michigan and Washington — prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s size. Michigan’s ban is legislative and Washington’s is based on court precedent. Body size discrimination is also prohibited in certain cities — Binghamton, New York; Madison, Wisconsin; Urbana, Illinois; Washington, DC; San Francisco; Santa Cruz, California; and most recently, New York City. Although this is not the first time that Massachusetts has tried to codify discrimination based on a person’s size, the proposed bill benefits from a developing understanding of how bias can manifest into discrimination and impact people in schools, employment, and in places of public accommodation such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, etc.
Bill S.2669, from the 192nd General Court (2021 – 2022), seeks to amend existing Massachusetts laws that define what constitutes discrimination within the Commonwealth. Specifically, the bill seeks to make it illegal to treat someone differently because of their height or weight. However, and importantly, the proposed bill would permit places of public accommodation and employers to treat people differently because of their height or weight “for the purposes of compliance with any established state, federal, or industry safety standard.” For example, an amusement park, manufacturing company, or a construction company may have legitimate reasons to treat employees differently if employee job duties include work to be completed within confined spaces. But schools will not be permitted to avail themselves of this exception.
Despite Bill S.2669 not yet being codified as law, it is always a good time to examine company policies to ensure that your company employs best practices concerning discrimination. Employers should watch the news closely on this topic. If Massachusetts amends its employment discrimination laws to include size as a protected category, then employers will need to act quickly to amend policies to educate their workforce about compliance and avoid potential claims.