Culture

Really Fat People Are Now A Protected Class In Washington State

If you’re grossly overweight and are having trouble finding a job, here’s some good news: You can now move to Washington State and no employer can discriminate against you.


For years, overweight people have complained that they are being discriminated against.

One study even claims that “as the rates of overweight and obesity rise, weight discrimination in America has increased by 66% over the past decade and is equivocal to racial discrimination.”

However, the Washington Supreme Court has now said that discriminating against those who are obese is illegal in the state.

via the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM):

The Washington Supreme Court held for the first time that obesity is a protected class under state anti-discrimination law (The applicant v. Burlington Northern Railroad Holdings, Inc.). This decision runs counter to recent federal court decisions in other parts of the countrythat have said obesity not caused by an underlying physiological disorder or condition does not qualify as an impairment under federal law.

Here’s the skinny (so to speak):

An unemployed guy, who was morbidly obese, applied for a job with BNSF Railway Company.

However, the job was contingent on his being able to pass a a physical exam and completing a medical history questionnaire to the company’s satisfaction.

Unfortunately, the applicant’s Body Mass Index (BMI) was 41.3 and, since a BMI over 40 is considered “severely” or “morbidly” obese, BNSF told the guy that it couldn’t determine whether he was medically qualified for the job due to the significant health and safety risks associated with obesity.

BNSF also him that it was company policy to not hire anyone who had a BMI over 35, and that if he did not agree to pay for expensive additional medical testing to further examine his condition, his only other option was to lose 10 percent of his weight and keep it off for six months.

So, long story short, the guy sued….and won under the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

The Washington Supreme Court…[issued] an unprecedented decision that “obesity is always an impairment under the plain language of [the WLAD] because the medical evidence shows that it is a ‘physiological disorder, or condition’ that affects many of the listed body systems.” Putting it bluntly, the court said that “obesity does not have to be caused by a separate physiological disorder or condition because obesity itself is a physiological disorder or condition under the statute.”

“While Washington employers may have grown accustomed to expansive disability discrimination protections, the decision goes further than ever before and may require them to immediately adjust employment practices,” notes SHRM.

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