In late May 2023, Mayor Adams signed Intro. 209-A, which amended the New York City Code to add prohibitions against height and weight discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. That law went into effect on November 22. This law establishes important new protections for people who experience height or weight discrimination in the workplace. If you experience this type of discrimination in New York City, you have options under the law. A knowledgeable New York City employment discrimination lawyer can advise you what those options are and which one makes the most sense for you.
Within the context of employment, the new law erects a general ban against discriminating against workers or job candidates based on their height or weight. Like other anti-discrimination laws, the new law prohibits discrimination based on a person's actual or perceived height or weight. (So, for example, if an employer rejected a job candidate because the employer thought the candidate "looked fat" in their headshot, that candidate could potentially take action even if he/she actually was a person of average size.)
It is important to recognize that not all employment discrimination based on height or weight is illegal. The new law carves out an express exemption for situations where employers must take a worker or job candidate's height and/or weight into consideration to comply with federal, state, or local law or regulations. The law also exempts employers who need workers of a particular size (and the city's Commission on Human Rights permits these sorts of considerations) because people of certain heights and/or weights might be unable to perform one or more essential functions of the job in question.
Even if an employer does not fall within any of the exemption provisions outlined in the previous paragraph, it's possible that it may not be liable for illegal height/weight discrimination. In cases where workers allege discrimination, the law permits employers to bring an affirmative defense. That defense would succeed if the employer could establish that the worker's height/weight prevented that person from performing essential duties of the job. (If an employer makes this argument, it must also prove that there was no alternative or accommodation it could have provided that would have allowed the worker to do the essential functions of the job.) Alternately, the employer can try to demonstrate that the height/weight discrimination in which it engages is "reasonably necessary for normal operations" for its business.
How the New Law Expands Protections for New York City Workers
One of the height/weight groups that historically endured the highest rates of discrimination and harassment is obese people. This new law stands to provide them with important new protections previously not available under federal, state, or city law. Earlier efforts to use anti-disability discrimination laws have yielded limited success. Courts have generally rejected obese workers' attempts to pursue disability discrimination cases under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, often ruling that a worker's obesity cannot constitute a recognized disability under the ADA unless it is connected to one or more physiological health disorders.
New York City is joining several other jurisdictions that have banned height/weight discrimination. Those localities include San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Binghamton (among others.) Michigan is the only jurisdiction to ban the practice at the state level... so far. New York State may soon join it. A state senator from Manhattan proposed a state ban in the most recent legislative session. The bill passed the Senate and is pending before the Assembly's Governmental Operations Committee.
As the mayor aptly put it, "No one should ever be discriminated against based on their height and weight. We all deserve the same access to employment, housing, and public accommodations, regardless of our appearance. It shouldn’t matter how tall you are or how much you weigh." Getting justice for height or weight discrimination generally will require an in-depth knowledge of not only the law and the facts of your case but also the processes and procedural rules involved in obtaining compensation. The diligent New York employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help and guide you in navigating the legal system. Our experienced team is dedicated to helping workers get the just outcomes they deserve. Reach us online or by calling (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation to get the information you need and to get us started working for you.