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Illustration: Saehan Parc for Bloomberg Businessweek

Yes, You Can Still Be Fired for Being Fat

Weight-based discrimination costs some Americans their jobs. Bills in New York and Massachusetts could expand protections to tens of millions of people.

People who are fat face bias in every corner of life. They’re more likely to be bullied in school, stigmatized by doctors, and convicted of crimes by juries. Survey respondents rate people who look overweight as lazier, weaker-willed, and less likely to win on Jeopardy!

When the humiliations extend to the workplace, the costs can be all the more easily measured in dollars and cents. People who are overweight are hired less, promoted less, and paid less. One study suggests that for every 6 pounds an average American woman gains, her hourly pay drops 2%. And people signing paychecks subject heavier workers to a gantlet of additional punishment, coercion, and harassment. “It is endemic,” says Claudia Center, the legal director for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, an advocacy group in Berkeley, Calif. One of her past clients, a cable installer, got risky weight-loss surgery after his company banned him from returning to work unless he lost about 100 pounds. His bosses thought he was too heavy to use their ladder, and they wanted to keep the ladder.