Officials Want To Ban Weight Discrimination in the Workplace

Plus: Elite colleges favor the rich, D.C. restaurants pass on new wage costs to customers, and more...


Some lawmakers want to include weight as a protected category for employment discrimination purposes. New York City and some states are moving "to outlaw weight discrimination at work," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Signed into law in May, the New York City ban adds weight and height to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination, alongside race, gender, age, religion and sexual orientation."

Similar measures have been introduced in New Jersey and Massachusetts, and Michigan already bans weight-based employment discrimination.

Laws like this make it off-limits for companies to consider someone's weight when making employment decisions such as who to hire, promote, or let go.

Of course, in an ideal world, employers would not arbitrarily discriminate against workers or potential workers because of their body sizes. But there are some jobs for which being overweight or obese might make performing relevant duties more difficult. It's not right for the government to tell private companies they can never consider weight when making decisions about whom to employ.

The more pernicious paradox here, however, is that rules like these stand little chance of effectively ending weight discrimination (to whatever extent that it exists) while simultaneously adding a lot of landmines to the employment landscape, making room for more frivolous lawsuits, and perhaps backfiring against overweight workers.

Employers don't have to tell rejected candidates why they've been rejected and there are myriad reasons why some workers might receive promotions over others. Any employer who wants to discriminate based on weight should still have an easy enough time acting on that without consequence under anti-discrimination schemes that include weight.

Meanwhile, disgruntled employees or would-be employees who are rejected for a job, passed over for a promotion, or perceive slights from their bosses or co-workers can sue. If there's no evidence that weight-based discrimination occurred, or that management knew about weight-based hostility from colleagues, such lawsuits should be unlikely to ultimately succeed—but they can still prove a hassle and a drain on resources for employers.

And fear that overweight workers will pose legal trouble may actually lead to increased discrimination against them. Employers may worry, rightly or wrongly, that someone's weight will make it more difficult to fire or discipline them for legitimate reasons should the need arise and therefore conclude that it's easier not to hire an overweight worker in the first place.

There's evidence for this sort of unintended consequence with other sorts of anti-discrimination laws. For instance, state-level age discrimination laws that allowed for larger damage awards were associated with longer unemployment periods for older men.

Nonetheless, pushes to make weight part of anti-discrimination statutes are becoming a trend, suggests the Journal article.


Elite colleges favor the rich. A new study provides hard evidence of what everyone already knows: Elite colleges and universities are much more likely to admit rich kids, even when their standardized test scores aren't as good. The researchers also found that "children from high-income families have no admissions advantage at flagship public colleges."

The study, from researchers at Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, relied on anonymized admissions data linked to income tax records and SAT and ACT test scores. It found that "children from families in the top 1% are more than twice as likely to attend an Ivy-Plus college (Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago) as those from middle-class families with comparable SAT/ACT scores."

"Two-thirds of this gap is due to higher admissions rates for students with comparable test scores from high-income families," explain the researchers in the paper's abstract. "The remaining third is due to differences in rates of application and matriculation."

Overall, "the high-income admissions advantage at private colleges is driven by three factors: (1) preferences for children of alumni, (2) weight placed on non-academic credentials, which tend to be stronger for students applying from private high schools that have affluent student bodies, and (3) recruitment of athletes, who tend to come from higher-income families," explains the study.

"The advantage to rich applicants varied by college," notes The New York Times:

At Dartmouth, students from the top 0.1 percent were five times as likely to attend as the average applicant with the same test score, while at M.I.T. they were no more likely to attend.

High-performing children of families earning less than $68,000 a year also had an advantage over students whose families earned more but were not ultra-rich. "An applicant with a high test score from a family earning less than $68,000 a year was also likelier than the average applicant to get in, though there were fewer applicants like this," notes the Times. "Children from middle- and upper-middle-class families—including those at public high schools in high-income neighborhoods—applied in large numbers. But they were, on an individual basis, less likely to be admitted than the richest or, to a lesser extent, poorest students with the same test scores."


D.C. restaurants pass on new wage costs to customers, because of course. Initiative 82, passed by District of Columbia voters last year, raises the pre-tip minimum wage for tipped workers from $5.35 an hour up to $17 an hour by 2027. In response, some restaurants are starting to charge customers an "Initiative 82 fee." According to Axios, "more than 150 D.C. restaurants have adopted service fees in the wake of I-82."

One such restaurant is the D.C. Mexican joint Mi Vida. "We think that the public should see the impact of their decision," Mi Vida's Jason Berry told Axios:

You voted for this. Here's what it costs to do it. You're going to pay for it. I'm not, because you know what? I don't want to go out of business. And if I start taking 3% away from my sales everywhere I go, I'm not going to make it."

Berry—whose hospitality company Knead owns eight D.C. restaurants—also said he wouldn't open any more new restaurants in the city.

Supporters of legislation like Initiative 82 act like wages can be hiked with no other ramifications. But many restaurants are struggling to get by as is and can't eat an increase in operating costs.

"The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation earlier this year postponing I-82 increases from going into effect until May so businesses could prepare," notes Axios. "The first increase was to $6, and then $8 this month—a nearly 50% jump that jolted some to implement the new fees."


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