May 12, 2000 Employment Discrimination

Height And Weight Are Now Protected Categories In San Francisco

On May 8, 2000, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to pass legislation banning discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of height and weight. Mayor Willie Brown has signed the legislation and it is now in effect.

Existing city codes in San Francisco already prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and place of birth. This new legislation will empower the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to investigate complaints of “size discrimination” as well, and to make a finding of discrimination, but not to impose any penalties. However, aggrieved individuals would be able to file civil suits, seeking the full panoply of traditional discrimination remedies, including backpay and compensatory and punitive damages. The new legislation exempts San Francisco’s Police and Fire Departments, as well as other city agencies requiring specific physical abilities.

The legislation is aimed at stopping discrimination against overweight and short individuals. It was initially passed despite an opinion by San Francisco’s City Attorney’s office that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act likely preempts the city’s ability to expand the categories of prohibited discrimination to include categories such as height and weight not covered under the state discrimination law.

The legislation was prompted by an advertising campaign by a health and fitness organization, 24-Hour Fitness, involving a billboard in which an alien is depicted with the slogan “When they come, they’ll eat the fat ones first.” With this new legislation, San Francisco joins Santa Cruz, Washington, D.C. and Michigan, which already have similar laws.