Can You Sue if You're a Victim of Weight Discrimination?
In the news recently is the story of twenty-one year old Jordan Ramos of Iowa City, Iowa, who alleges that she was discriminated against at a local bar. She claims that a bouncer at Union Bar, also in Iowa City, refused to let her onto a dancing platform with her friends because she is overweight. She alleges that the bouncer told her she wasn't pretty enough to dance on the platform with her friends, and that he claimed she was obviously pregnant, which she denied.
There are pictures of her available online, and I will not post them here because I do not have permission to do so. But, in my opinion, though she describes herself as plus sized, she probably would fit into the obese category. (I'm not being judgmental, just observant. I fall into that category myself.)
Ramos was told by the social work staff at the University of Iowa to return to the bar and see if the exact same thing would happen again. She did, and it did. Ramos then went to the Human Rights Commission in Iowa City in order to file a complaint. She was told that weight discrimination is not illegal.
Though any lawsuit she might file might sound as ridiculous as suing because of burns from a cup of coffee from a fast food restaurant, it does say something about society as a whole. Do people have a right to discriminate against someone because of their weight?
What is Discrimination and Why is Some of it Illegal?
It seems as if most lawsuits these days are frivolous, bordering on ridiculous, but discrimination is a very real and dangerous thing for any individual's civil rights.
Dictionary.com defines discrimination as "Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit."
There are several important federal laws in the United States regarding discrimination.
The United States' Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation and is broken into chapters, or Titles.
- Title I gave voters equality, although it did not ban literacy tests, which were originally designed to keep blacks from voting. This was practice was banned in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Title II eliminated discrimination in public places according to race, religion and color. Private clubs were excepted, and women were not included in the wording.
- Title III prohibited any state or local government from denying access to anyone because of their race, color, religion or national origin.
- Title IV advocated the desegregation of public schools.
- Title V gave the Civil Rights Commission greater authority.
- Title VI prevents discrimination in any government agencies that are funded by the federal government
- Title VII specifically addresses discrimination in the workplace. It prohibits the discrimination of people based on their race, gender, age, color or national origin.
- Title VIII required the collection of voter registration data in areas according to the Civil Rights Commission.
- Title IX allowed the moving of civil rights cases from state courts to federal.
- Title X created the Community Relations Service to handle discrimination claims.
- Title XI established fines and jail term limits for anyone having been convicted of discrimination crimes.
- The Bennett Amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 affected the wording of Title VII, allowing for the differences of job titles and duties and their relation to wages.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 disallows housing discrimination in relation to race, creed or national origin. Gender was added to the language in 1974 and people with disabilities as well as families with children in 1988.
The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 made it illegal for anyone to hire, fire, discipline or fail to promote anyone because of their age.
There is currently no federal legislation in the United States barring discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.
All other legislation is left up to the states to decide.
So... Does She Have a Case, or Doesn't She?
In the state where the incident occurred, Iowa, the following people are the only ones protected from discrimination by state law: "The Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education. Discrimination, or different treatment, is illegal if based on race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, physical disability, mental disability, retaliation (because of filing a previous discrimination complaint, participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint, or having opposed discriminatory conduct), age (in employment and credit), familial status (in housing and credit) or marital status (in credit)."
Some may argue that her weight could be classified as a physical disability, but those findings are made by special boards that qualify people as disabled for the purpose of Social Security Disability.
Even if Ramos were to be certified as disabled, the bar ultimately has the right to 'refuse service to anyone.' It could also be argued that there may be a weight limit on the platform that Ms. Ramos was attempting to dance on, and allowing her onto that platform could have the potential for injury for Ms. Ramos and anyone else on it. Amusement park rides, elevators and many other places do have weight restrictions for safety, though it could also be argued that the bar should post their restrictions publicly if this is the reason given for disallowing heavier people from dancing in or on specific areas.
As it is, in the state of Iowa, Ms. Ramos has no legal grounds to file a complaint or a suit. Her only recourse is to do exactly what she is doing, gaining media attention and refusing to return to Union Bar.
Though discrimination is vile and unfair, it is not always illegal.
Do you think that Jordan Ramos should be able to file a lawsuit?
What Can You Do If You Think You Are the Victim of Discrimination
If you believe that you have been the victim of discrimination, there are a few things you can do.
Firstly, if the basis for discrimination falls under any of the provisions of any United States federal law, you may file an online complaint with the corresponding government agency.
The US Department of Education's Office For Civil Rights can be contacted here.
Information on filing a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is located here
If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of your disability, contact the US Department of Health and Human Services.
If the nature of the discrimination you have experienced falls under any other category, you should contact the Human Rights agency in your city or state. Also, most Legal Aid services will let you know if the discrimination you faced has any legal grounds for official complaints or lawsuits.
Overweight and/or Ugly Girls Need Not Apply
© 2012 Georgie Lowery