Is Texas Ground Zero for Weight Discrimination?

A Victoria hospital makes headlines for its policy of not hiring severely obese employees, but it's not the only company in Texas to engage in this type of discrimination. 
Tue April 10, 2012 2:09 am
Flickr | Tobyotter

Should an employer be able to select against hiring obese employees? Well, one Victoria hospital thinks so.

Citizens Medical Center no longer hires employees who have a body mass index of 35 or greater. (A BMI of more than thirty is considered obese, and more than 35 is considered severely obese.) The Texas Tribune’s Emily Ramshaw reported on the hospital’s policy, writing:

The Citizens Medical Center policy, instituted a little more than a year ago, requires potential employees to have a body mass index of less than 35 — which is 210 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-5, and 245 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-10. It states that an employee’s physique “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including an appearance “free from distraction” for hospital patients.

“The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” hospital chief executive David Brown said in an interview. “We have the ability as an employer to characterize our process and to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.”

Employment lawyers say Citizens Medical Center’s hiring policy isn’t against the law. Only the state of Michigan and six U.S. cities — including San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — ban discrimination against the overweight in hiring.

“In Texas, employers cannot discriminate against employees because of their race, age or religion,” said  DeDe Church, an Austin-based employment lawyer. “Weight is not one of those protected categories.”

But the Texas Hospital Association holds that this policy could expose the hospital to lawsuits. “People with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in some court rulings, obesity has been interpreted as a disability,” Ramshaw wrote. “There is an indication that not hiring someone due to obesity might be successfully challenged in court,” Lance Lunsford, a spokesman for the Texas Hospital Association, told Ramshaw.

A full 31 percent of

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