Two employment discrimination cases recently filed in Michigan are beginning to draw attention from people around the country. Two former waitresses claim they were forced out of their jobs by Hooters Restaurants in violation of a Michigan law that specifically prohibits discrimination based upon an employee's weight. Here, in Minnesota, there is no law specifically addressing weight discrimination, in fact, Michigan's law appears to be the only statewide law in the country on this topic.
One of the former waitresses alleges that she was placed on "weight probation," given a gym membership, and told that she had thirty days to make progress at losing weight or she would be let go from the company.
Hooters management has countered the allegations by saying the restaurant chain does not enforce a weight requirement. In addition, they claim their waitresses do more than just serve food to patrons. They claim the waitresses should be considered entertainers whose appearance is an important part of the restaurant's image and business.
The Michigan law at issue was passed in 1976 as part of broader law aimed at preventing discrimination based on height or weight. The law actually grew out complaints that woman were being kept out of jobs in the auto industry as well as police and fire departments based upon height requirements favoring men.
According to J.J. Prescott, a law professor at the University of Michigan, there is very little caselaw in Michigan on the topic of weight discrimination. Reportedly, only about one case is brought under this law per year.
While no other state has a law similar to Michigan's in this respect, a number of cities have passed weight discrimination laws, including San Francisco and Santa Cruz in California; Birmingham, NY; Madison, WI; Urbana, IL; and Washington, D.C.
Michigan law opened door to Hooters lawsuits (Associated Press)