“He could perform his job satisfactorily, but his obesity entailed a limitation in the performance of his job: For example, he had more trouble getting up and down from the floor to play with the children and couldn’t run or walk as fast as the children,” says Jacob Sand, the plaintiff’s attorney.
Because obesity can have more damaging effects on women than men in the workplace, Shinall, the Vanderbilt professor, says she believes that the government could bring action against some employers for violating the law barring sex discrimination. Indeed, the EEOC successfully sued US airlines in the early 1990s for sex discrimination because they required female flight attendants to meet certain weight standards.
Coping with comments
Some people have developed coping techniques when they encounter obesity discrimination or simply fat jokes in the workplace. Valinda Royal was once fired from a dental clinic because a new dentist joining the practice “wasn’t comfortable” with her size and with her working with patients. She complained and the clinic ended up settling with her for about $1,000.
“Sometimes through the years, people would make comments assuming I wasn’t as smart as other people because of my weight,” she recalls. “But I learned years ago to not let insults about my weight or discrimination tear me up. Some things in life are what you make of them; you don’t have to let people make you feel bad about yourself.”
Over time, she received valuable support from her family and developed strong self-esteem. “You can also teach people how to treat you, to give you respect when you want it,” says Royal, now a psychiatric counsellor living in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who stands five feet tall and weighs about 250lb. “For example, I asked direct questions like, ‘Is something bothering you?’ when someone wasn’t treating me right. Most of the time, they’d stop acting that way around me.”
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