Last month, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed a new ordinance that adds weight and height to the city’s antidiscrimination prohibitions. The new measure means that employers in New York can be sued for discrimination against and harassment of applicants or employees based on these characteristics. The city joins a small but growing number of states and municipalities that have added appearance-based criteria to their civil rights statutes and ordinances.
These new measures have been championed by advocates who point to studies showing that employers routinely discriminate against persons based on their appearance. In addition to prohibiting such actions, the New York ordinance may require certain accommodations to allow persons equal access to work despite their height and/or weight.
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) currently considers morbid obesity to fall within the definition of protected medical conditions. However, discrimination based on appearance alone would not be protected under the ADA. New York State is considering legislation similar to the NYC measure, as are several additional states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts.