End all shapes and sizes of discrimination!

by STUART APPELBAUM President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union

October 27, 2022

In the Big Apple, it’s still often legal to discriminate against people due to their weight or their height. That’s why the RWDSU, and a coalition of community and advocacy groups, is supporting an amendment to New York City’s administrative code that would ban New Yorkers from discrimination based upon height and weight. It’s an important issue; height and weight discrimination runs rampant and unchecked in many industries in New York, and it often goes hand-in-hand with racial discrimination and bias against women. Addressing height and weight discrimination with this legislation [Intro 0209-2022] is an important step toward fighting societal problems such as sexism, racism, and economic inequality. 

This discrimination is prevalent in the fashion retail industry. Workers who are not protected by a union have no recourse against a boss who wants to discriminate against someone due to body size, and RWDSU representatives hear about it when they organize in these workplaces. Workers at some fast fashion stores have reported being forced to diet or risk being fired, with some even required to send full-body photos to executives for review. Workers in the industry have reported that management will only hire “skinny, white, and pretty” employees to work on their sales floors. 

This bill would protect countless New Yorkers from this type of blatant, often systemic discrimination. It will help workers who can’t get a job, or who suffer from lack of promotion at work based upon not their performance, but their appearance. It will protect people who are seeking public housing or other public accommodations avoid being affected by discrimination. Businesses would still be able to receive waivers for “reasonable” exceptions or legitimate health and safety issues, creating a fairer playing field while still ensuring employers can operate appropriately and safely.

Height and weight discrimination is intertwined with social injustice and racial discrimination. Studies show that people of color in the U.S.—Black and Hispanics—are more likely to be of a higher weight than white people. Black Americans are likely to be on average one inch shorter than white Americans, and Asian and Hispanic Americans average about three inches shorter in height than their Caucasian counterparts. Women in America are more likely than men to be considered obese, and studies show that women are more likely to be discriminated against than men due to their appearance. 

Discrimination based upon appearance and size hits New Yorkers right in their wallets, hurts our communities, and hurts families. A study on the issue showed that larger workers earn lower wages and are more likely to be viewed negatively by hiring managers. Larger peoples’ performance is more likely to be viewed negatively by supervisors; with “weight bias” hurting workers’ overall compensation, performance evaluations, and even quality of training.

As a society, and in our workplaces, discrimination due to appearance is sadly all too prevalent.

Every single New Yorker deserves the right to a workplace and employment landscape free of prejudice and discrimination, and every industry in New York needs to recognize that good workers come in all shapes and sizes. Passing Intro 0209-2022 is how we can make this happen. 

You can also read the column in New York Amsterdam News.