Hooters Weight Discrimination Suits Allowed to Proceed

A judge in Michigan has allowed the lawsuits filed by two former Hooters employees to move forward. Cassandra Smith, 20, and Leanne Convery, 23, both of Michigan, filed separate lawsuits in response to being fired because of her weight.

And it looks like they have a case for their complaint. The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), enacted in 1976, prohibits Michigan employers against discrimination on the basis of weight.

Under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), it’s illegal to subject people to differential treatment based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status.

The ELCRA prohibits employers from discriminating against any member of the protected classes listed above in hiring, compensation or the terms, conditions or privileges of employment.

The law is Michigan’s version of the federal Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Equal Pay Act all rolled into one. While those federal laws cover employers with 15 or more employees, the state law covers all employers.

To put a finer point on it, Michigan House bill 4529, called the “Respect for Physical Differences Act” is being proposed.

From Michigan Employment Law Connection:

House bill # 4529 is called the “Respect for Physical Differences Act.” Employers with one or more employees may not refuse to hire, fire, and discriminate with respect to terms and conditions of employment because of body type, degree of physical fitness, or other physical characteristics. The law does not apply where these conditions are a BFOQ or where they impair the employment activity or responsibility of a particular employee or group of employees. The burden is on the employer to establish that the BFOQ is reasonably necessary to the performance of the job. Retaliation against individuals who enforce the act is prohibited, and an action may be filed in state court.

Hooter’s management, of course, has a different take on the matter.

Chiefs at Hooters — which has more than 435 restaurants across the US — say the law should not apply as its waitresses are “entertainers”, whose appearance is a “legitimate concern”.

I’m sure that much can be said about this case, but what it really boils down to is “Law vs. BFOQ“.

I’m really curious to see how this one plays out.