Case One Response (COMM 564 Ebo)

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Picture this scenario: You’re just returning from your lunch break when your boss walks up to you and tells you to pack your belongings. You’re fired. You stammer for an explanation. Did you mishandle an important project? Were you accused of embezzling company funds?

No. It’s because you’re fat.

Of course, immediately, I need to know some more clarifying information.

How do I know that I am being fired for what I’ll call obesity? What in my job requires that I must be of ‘normal’ weight? What is normal weight? Are we using a formula? Am I a dancer? Am I a model? Am I an athlete who needs to be in top physical shape to stay focused? Am I a trash person, who must be able to hang on to the back of a truck without fear of a quick turn? Is it part of a contract? Has anything actually been said to indicate that obesity was in fact the reason? The company is held, generally speaking, to a standard that prevents discrimination according to weight, which in this case might be coded as a disability.
I don’t think the case would stand very long in court or even be considered unless there is some factor which is not revealed in the case study, such as one of the scenarios I mentioned above, e.g. dancing, modeling, or some other work activity that requires the worker’s body to be of a certain fitness in order to do the work well. In this case, special care would have to be taken in the work agreement to measure what an ideal body was proportionally, in weight, and in tone, so that an objective analysis of the worker’s body could be shown to be outside of the margins of allowance. Otherwise, the scenario is akin to prejudice, in that bodily fitness has no impact of knowledge work, but may indeed be seen as having an impact on kinetic work.

I’d also add that I do not see it as very fair nor reasonable, even given a contract, that there not be an opportunity to make things right in the eyes of the contract. How many pounds out of the allowance are we? 20 pounds? 10? 10 pounds could be reasonably lost with a fitness and caloric regimen in 5 to 10 weeks. Can the work be held for that long? Is there some other task that the obese employee could do in the meantime?

John LeMasney

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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

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Dr. Ebo asked us to give two specific examples of discriminatory practice related to the following types, using the EEOC web site as a guide.

Age: An employer who chooses one employee over another equally qualified employee for a job based on their age would be in violation of discrimination laws. If an employee decided to reduce benefits to an employee based on the idea that advanced age was causing more frequent insurance claims, they would be in violation of discrimination laws.

Disability: An employer who decided to fire a secretary who was recently diagnosed with legal blindness, but who was still able to perform basic job duties would be in violation. An employer who refused to install a ramp for an employee who became wheelchair ridden in a car accident would likely be in violation, if the install of the ramp was an affordable expense to the business and would not bring undue hardship. Disability Discrimination

Equal Compensation: Two persons doing the same job who are of equal skills, effort, and responsibility, etc. but who were given different pay or benefits would put the employer in violation. If an older construction worker and a younger construction worker both do a similar job, but the employer sees the older employee as an insurance risk for that reason alone, they can not simply reduce benefits based upon that belief. Equal Pay and Compensation Discrimination

National Origin: If an employer hires one person over another because both they and the new employee were both of German descent, the employer would be in violation. If an employer set an employee of a particular national origin to a task that they felt matched some national association with that task (a Chinese American to do an accountancy task, for example, playing on the stereotype) they would be in violation. National Origin Discrimination

Pregnancy: An employer who discovers that a suitable candidate for employment is pregnant can not dismiss her from consideration based on the fact that she’s pregnant. If an employer typically allows an employee to enjoy a benefit whle on leave, they must provide the same benefit to an employee who is away because of a pregnancy.   Pregnancy Discrimination

Race: An employer must not give preferential treatment or a difference of responsibility, etc., based on racial differences. If a boss were to choose a caucasian worker over a hispanic worker to manage a project because they believe that caucasians are more responsible than other races, they would be in violation.  Race-Based Discrimination

Religion: If a employer were to choose a Christian over an atheist for a job because they felt the job required a moral compass and the atheist would be less likely to be morally complete, they would be in violation. If a Christian employer were to only ever promote people who noticeably prayed they would be in violation. Religious Discrimination

Retaliation: An employer who demotes an employee as retaliation for reporting a discrimination violation is in violation for this alone. Threatening an employee who reports a violation of discrimination laws is also prohibited. Retaliation

Sex: An employer who insists upon sexual favors from an employee is in violation. An employer who maintains a hostile work environment due to sexual overtones in the workplace is in violation.  Sex-Based Discrimination

Sexual Harassment: A worker who is subjected to overtly sexual conversations of co-workers because of the allowances of the employer puts the employer in violation of sexual harassment rules. A co worker who commits sexual advances, asks for sexual favors, or promotes a sexually based hostile work environment for others is in violation.  Sexual Harassment

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