Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Weight Discrimination and the Law

No federal laws exist to prohibit discrimination against obese individuals. With the exception of a few jurisdictions that address discrimination on the basis of weight or appearance (for example, Michigan has a state law), most people who experience weight discrimination must use other legal categories or fight their battles alone. In particular, overweight individuals have depended on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Most cases involving weight are employment discrimination cases, and many of them are unsuccessful.
Whether obesity qualifies as a disability under the ADA has caused much debate. Overweight people who are not “morbidly obese” but who experience weight discrimination cannot file claims under the ADA because they are not considered disabled. These unresolved issues, along with public perceptions that blame obese people for their own negative experiences, result in inconsistent court rulings and deter other overweight people from seeking legal recourse at all.

There is a strong need for legislation to extend the options for obese individuals beyond the RA and ADA.