A groundbreaking measure aimed at safeguarding individuals with weight-related concerns against prejudice has been officially enacted in New York City. The forthcoming approval from Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, is anticipated for this bill that will effectively prohibit discrimination based on “height or weight” across various domains, including “employment, housing, and public accommodation.” Some critics, such as Republican Joseph Borelli, who serves as the minority leader of the New York City Council, express deep concern, fearing that it may open the floodgates for excessive litigation against individuals and organizations. Councilman Shaun Abreu, one of the prominent proponents of the bill, has shared his personal encounter with weight-based bias after gaining 40 pounds during a period of confinement. Notable endorsements for the legislation have come from charitable organizations and advocates, including the self-proclaimed “Fat Fab Feminist” Victoria Abraham, who testified ardently in support of the bill before the city council earlier this year.
Exceptions to the law will be granted to employers who can demonstrate that height or weight requirements are reasonably necessary for the regular operations of specific job roles. Councilman Abreu firmly believes that tolerating a situation where individuals face discrimination without any means of recourse, while society passively accepts it, is simply unacceptable. Victoria Abraham, during her testimony, passionately highlighted the irony of living in a nation plagued by obesity while lacking comprehensive protection for individuals who may face termination solely due to their size.
The bill achieved resounding approval on Thursday, securing unanimous support from the council with a vote of 44-5, despite initial opposition. Councilman Borelli, emphasizing personal resilience, remarked to The New York Times, “Although I may be overweight, I refuse to embrace victimhood. Pity is unwarranted, even from my struggling shirt buttons.” Michigan notably led the way in 1976 by enacting legislation that banned weight-based discrimination in employment, following the footsteps of other jurisdictions like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Presently, similar bills have been introduced at the state level in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey.
Tegan Lecheler, the Director of Advocacy for the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance, expressed optimism that this bill will serve as a catalyst for broader conversations, extending beyond the narrow focus on health. “This is not merely a health issue,” she asserted, emphasizing the importance of fundamental fairness. She further posited that the central question revolves around whether all members of the public should have unrestricted access to spaces where they feel secure.
New York City’s human rights law currently prohibits discrimination based on a range of factors, including age, marital status, disability, and national origin, encompassing a total of 27 protected categories spanning housing, employment, and public accommodations. With the passage of this bill, the list will be amended to include height and weight, albeit with exceptions for cases where these factors are a legitimate occupational requirement or pose risks to public health and safety.