Senate panel advances bill to ban discrimination on height, weight

January 26, 2024

In New Jersey, landlords, business owners, and employers can’t discriminate against people based on gender, race, religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, and more.

A bill lawmakers advanced Thursday would also ban discrimination based on someone’s height and weight, a type of discrimination that bill sponsor Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) called “a serious and significant issue, not just in New Jersey but around the country.”

“Making sure that we are putting this directly into our Law Against Discrimination is an important step,” Zwicker said.

Alan Schorr of the National Employment Lawyers Association said the measure is “long overdue.”

Employers have long looked to exploit loopholes and find ways to discriminate against workers, he said. He pointed to flight attendants or waitresses who are often told they have to look a certain way — typically focused on their weight.

“It should be unlawful for an employer to impose minimum height requirements in order to avoid hiring women, and it should be unlawful for an employer to impose weight limits to avoid hiring men and women who do not fit an employer’s subjective vision of what is attractive,” he said.

Studies have shown that heavier people face weight bias in the workplace, including fewer hiring opportunities, lower wages, and a higher risk of harassment from coworkers.

The legislation includes a provision for legitimate occupational qualifications, meaning that certain employers can refuse to hire someone based on their height and weight if it won’t allow them to perform the work.

New Jersey would become the second state with a law including height and weight in anti-discrimination laws, behind MichiganSeveral cities have similar statutes, including New York City, where a law banning height and weight discrimination went into effect in November. There are no federal protections against height or weight discrimination.

Some businesses are concerned that if the law is put in place, frivolous lawsuits may be brought against employers. Zwicker pointed out that in Michigan, only 1.5% of worker discrimination complaints relate to weight discrimination, according to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

The Senate Labor Committee advanced the measure unanimously. An Assembly companion bill has not yet been introduced.