Case Study: Can You Get Fired Because You Are Fat?

03/05/2009
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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. (http://www.diversityinc.com/public/2958.cfm?sd=247)

Because weight and obesity is not a protected characteristic under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act, a person who was fired as a result of being overweight would not likely have a defendable discrimination case.

Only in cases where you were extremely or morbidly obese would you have the opportunity to defend yourself under the protection regarding discrimination against disability, by filing a claim under the Americans with disabilities act.  Even then it would be a very difficult case to win.

There is the idea that obesity, dress, and other physical characteristics are a remaining opportunity for discrimination and prejudice, and this is exemplified by the notion that workers can share fat jokes without a raised eyebrow, but certainly not jokes about blacks or women or older people, because it would quickly bring cases of discrimination. Because people are generally believed to make choices about their physical appearance, but are born with other characteristics (age, race, etc), physical appearance seems to elude the common rules of prejudice.

Employers who look at the data may discriminate against the obese because according to some studies, obese people are more likely to submit worker’s compensation claims, and so to protect the bottom line, employers may take this currently legal action of firing or refusing to hire the obese.

Most of my ideas and support came from the source of the case: http://www.diversityinc.com/public/2958.cfm?sd=247

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Ping – Technology Doesn’t Dumb Us Down. It Frees Our Minds. – NYTimes.com

03/04/2009
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Here’s a take, very similar to mine, on the ways in which “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” gets it wrong. The rebuttal is deeper in the article, but I loved the tongue-in-cheek, but almost poetic way in which the author here demonstrates the power of Twitter in summarizing the Atlantic article:

To save you some time, I was going to give you a 100-word abridged version. But there are just too many distractions to read that much. So here is the 140-character Twitter version (Twitter is a hyperspeed form of blogging in which you write about your life in bursts of 140 characters or fewer, including spaces and punctuation marks):

Google makes deep reading impossible. Media changes. Our brains’ wiring changes too. Computers think for us, flattening our intelligence.

via Ping – Technology Doesn’t Dumb Us Down. It Frees Our Minds. – NYTimes.com.

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Is the Internet Warping Our Brains? | LiveScience

02/25/2009
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In our ongoing discussion about the ways in which the internet, technology and Google is changing the ways in which we think, I thought this article might be a good one to bring to light.

The Internet is no doubt changing modern society. It has profoundly altered how we gather information, consume news, carry out war, and create and foster social bonds. But is it altering our brains? A growing number of scientists think so, and studies are providing data to show it.

What remains to be seen is whether the changes are good or bad, and whether the brain is, as one neuroscientist believes, undergoing unprecedented evolution.

Texting and instant messaging, social networking sites and the Internet in general can certainly be said to distract people from other tasks. But what researchers are worrying more about are the plastic brains of teens and young adults who are now growing up with all this, the “digital natives” as they’re being called.

via Is the Internet Warping Our Brains? | LiveScience.

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Case One Response (COMM 564 Ebo)

02/23/2009
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CASE STUDY NUMBER ONE

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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Amazon.com: iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind: Gary Small, Gigi Vorgan: Books

02/16/2009
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Here’s a book that delves deeply into the topic raised in our article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and I’m looking forward to reading it. It appears to be a bit more grounded in academic scholarship and research than the article was, and maybe just a little more even handed. Can you tell how I felt about the article? To the point: I’m not against the idea that our minds are changing, I’m against the idea that it’s a bad thing.

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Their insights are extraordinary, their behaviors unusual. Their brains—shaped by the era of microprocessors, access to limitless information, and 24-hour news and communication—are remapping, retooling, and evolving. They’re not superhuman. They’re your twenty-something coworkers, your children, and your competition. Are you keeping up?

In iBrain, Dr. Gary Small, one of America’s leading neuroscientists and experts on brain function and behavior, explores how technology‘s unstoppable march forward has altered the way young minds develop, function, and interpret information. iBrain reveals a new evolution catalyzed by technological advancement and its future implications: Where do you fit in on the evolutionary chain? What are the professional, social, and political impacts of this new brain evolution? How must you adapt and at what price?

While high-tech immersion can accelerate learning and boost creativity, it also has its glitches, among them the meteoric rise in ADD diagnoses, increased social isolation, and Internet addiction. To compete and thrive in the age of brain evolution, and to avoid these potential drawbacks, we must adapt, and iBrain—with its Technology Toolkit—equips all of us with the tools and strategies needed to close the brain gap.

via Amazon.com: iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind: Gary Small, Gigi Vorgan: Books.

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Video: “Plane crashed a few blocks from my house. I filmed it.” – Boing Boing

02/13/2009
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In our classroom talks about producer/consumer relationships, top down/bottom up media, and unedited releases, there are lots of issues with that lack of editing. For example, here, on one of my favorite blogs, boingboing, there is was a video posted of the Buffalo plane crash to YouTube. There is something to be said for the timestamp of the upload, which is approximately the same time that the major networks broke the news, which brings into question the power of the networks to report any faster than, well, you. However, the other thing that rises very quickly to the forefront is whether an editor (a traditional editor who is afraid of lawsuits, loss of readership, etc.) would post the same video. There are some critiques of this blog for doing just that in the discussion after the video, which is no longer available, because youtube removed it.

Isn’t boingboing supposed to the directory of wonderful things? What’s so wonderful about posting videos of plane crashes? And I’m not even going into the ethics/motivation of doing this either. After all, there is nothing to be learned/understood by watching or posting this video. Just some shaky footage.

via Video: “Plane crashed a few blocks from my house. I filmed it.” – Boing Boing.

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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

02/13/2009
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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. http://www.eeoc.gov/types/age.html

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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