The last prejudice? NJ looks to outlaw less-discussed types of discrimination
Currently, Michigan is the only state in the country that prohibits discrimination on the basis of height or weight as part of its civil rights law, and there is no such federal statute.
New Jersey state Sen. Andrew Zwicker, D-Monmouth Junction, would like to see the Garden State become the second in the U.S. to outlaw such prejudice in hiring, housing, and educational practices.
"This is a serious problem, and we don't accept race discrimination or gender discrimination or age discrimination," Zwicker said.
His bill (S2741), which was introduced June 2 and referred to the Senate Labor Committee, would classify rejection based on height and weight under the state "law against discrimination."
That's something Zwicker said some other states or individual towns have proposed, but which he was "shocked" to learn was not on the books in New Jersey.
He said studies have shown "widespread" discrimination specifically with regard to weight, typically much more among women than men, and he feels it is both harmful and hurtful.
"One study I saw said somewhere between 20% and 40% of people who are overweight report some sort of discriminatory behavior towards them," Zwicker said. "Society has put these ideal heights, ideal weights, and these are just things that have been created, and not everybody fits into that ideal. And so, people are treated differently."
According to language in Zwicker's proposal, the Michigan law prohibits discrimination in "employment, education, housing, public accommodations, and public service," among other reasons, and the senator hopes to cover the same ground with the New Jersey bill.
Exceptions are provided in cases "in which the height or weight of an individual is a bona fide occupational qualification," the bill states.
In short, Zwicker's legislation would empower someone who feels they have experienced such discrimination to take legal action.
He cited a case out of Atlantic City years ago, in which a judge threw out a lawsuit brought by female casino workers who were weighed weekly and threatened with termination because there was no basis in New Jersey law to support their claims.
This bill, he said, would close that loophole.
"This is more than common sense, this is just the right thing to do, so that's why I wrote it and why I'm now advocating for it," Zwicker said.
Zwicker intends for the legislation to take effect immediately if and when it is passed and signed by the governor.