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Ban on weight discrimination becomes law in New York

Two women stand on Aug. 16, 2016, in New York.Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams on Friday signed into law a ban on discrimination in New York City based on a person’s weight.

The law adds weight and height to the list of characteristics that are protected from discrimination, along with race, gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation, and will apply to employment, housing, and access to public accommodations.

Adams, a Democrat in his second year in office, had expressed support for the bill, which was approved by the City Council earlier this month.

Adams, who published a book in 2020 about losing 35 pounds on a plant-based diet, said Friday that the law would make workplaces more inclusive and that people who are applying for a job should not be treated differently.

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“Science has shown that body type is not a connection to if you’re healthy or unhealthy,” he said. “I think that’s a misnomer that we’re really dispelling.”

The law is part of a growing national campaign to address weight discrimination, with lawmakers in New Jersey and Massachusetts considering similar measures. Michigan and Washington state already prohibit it, as do some cities, like Washington, D.C.

New Yorkers testified at a City Council hearing earlier this year about being discriminated against because of their weight. A student at New York University said that desks in classrooms were too small for her. A soprano at the Metropolitan Opera said she had faced body shaming and pressure to develop an eating disorder.

Some business leaders and Republicans had expressed concerns about the bill, including Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group, who said that it could be an onerous mandate for companies and would place a burden on regulators and the judicial system.

Obesity rates have risen in the United States over the last two decades, and more than 40 percent of American adults are considered obese.

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The body acceptance movement and self-described fat activists have sought to reduce bias and shame around weight. Podcasts like “Maintenance Phase” have spread awareness that not all overweight people are unhealthy and that diets often fail.

New York City has been a center for fat activism since at least the 1960s, when a crowd of 500 people held a “fat in” at Central Park.

Tigress Osborn, chair of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, a nonprofit advocacy group, said she hoped that other cities would approve similar laws to send the message that size discrimination was a “serious injustice.”

The bill’s sponsor, Shaun Abreu, a council member from northern Manhattan, said that he gained weight during the pandemic and noticed that people treated him differently. He said that the law would make employers think twice about discriminating against heavier people and raise awareness about the problem.

“It’s also about changing the culture in how we think about weight,” he said.

Complaints about weight discrimination will be investigated by the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which already examines complaints over race, gender and other issues.

State lawmakers in New York are also considering a weight discrimination law. The city law will take effect in 180 days.