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Can You Sue if You're a Victim of Weight Discrimination?

Updated on March 11, 2017
Dancing on Bars: Not for the Overweight?
Dancing on Bars: Not for the Overweight?

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?

This guy will probably not be asked to dance on tables any time soon.
This guy will probably not be asked to dance on tables any time soon. | Source

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.

She may be offended or even outraged, but does she have any legal grounds for a law suit?
She may be offended or even outraged, but does she have any legal grounds for a law suit? | Source

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?

See results

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 Georgianna Lowery

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    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 4 years ago from New York City

      It's an interesting case.

      There is a greater justification for discrimination on the basis of weight because it is something that one has greater control over, unlike gender or race.

      Voting up.

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 4 years ago from Slaton, Texas USA

      You are right, secularist, her weight is something she can control. That could open up a can of worms, however. Though it is not a popular stance, some do argue that homosexuality is a choice and that gays have control over their sexuality.

      I guess it seems like there is at least a little shade of grey in a lot of these things.

      Thank you for commenting. I really appreciate it. :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Georgie, I love this hub and it is something I found very interesting....one question and I hate to ask this...but on your picture of JFK you said he signed the law...but he died in 1963???

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 4 years ago from Slaton, Texas USA

      Thank you for that, billybuc. You are right. Somehow I got my facts crossed. JFK signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 64.

    • arynix profile image

      arynix 4 years ago from Dallas, TX

      I like it! I like it! Good info, well-presented. And not boring.

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 4 years ago from Slaton, Texas USA

      Thank you, arynix. I appreciate your taking the time to read. :)

    • drmiddlebrook profile image

      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Interesting article. Thanks for bringing this to light. I'm not sure about this incidence, but I think weight discrimination should be illegal in some circumstances (such as in employment), at least in my opinion. Voted useful.

    • profile image

      jamie 3 years ago

      Nowadays people sue for anything. To me it sounds like they didn't want to be held liable if anything were to happen app

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 3 years ago from Glasgow

      Interesting hub. I have experienced indirect weight discrimination myself a few times. Doctors are usually the worst for it. No matter what your complaint... It's because you're fat. I could walk into the doctors office with my head hanging off, and be told to lose weight and it will be fixed! I suppose it's hard to live up to all these perfect people's standards... (Chortle chortle)

    • KL Klein profile image

      Krissa Klein 2 years ago from California

      This is a very interesting issue. One the one hand, discrimination is seen as more valid because weight IS something that can be changed, unlike most other disabilities. And there will always be places with weight limits for safety reasons, etc.

      And yet, I know firsthand how very very difficult it is to lose it -- and it seems like science is realizing that overweight people have more severe food cravings than naturally skinny people. So you could argue that, in itself, is an unchangeable disability.

    • pmorries profile image

      pmorries 2 years ago from Golden, CO

      I have suffered from weight discrimination at the work place. I owned my own business, but I had to work a second job for insurance (I also had preexisting conditions making insurance very costly). I was the biggest security guard on site (height and weight). One day an individual said what could I do if a terrorist attacked the site, and I was removed from that site (to a less desirable site). The honest answer would have been that I would have done the same as any other security guards...call the police. We were unarmed, and we were not allowed to touch anybody (all we did was observe and report). I went to the EEOC as part of class action lawsuit, and they said if I was willing to have my doctor diagnose me as morbidly obese (which I was), I would have a case; however, I was encouraged no to by the EEOC. The EEOC did encourage me to testify on the behalf of the others in the case about racial discrimination and sexual harassment .

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