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Tell managers: Keep unsolicited dietary advice to yourself

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Michigan has one of the toughest weight discrimination laws in the country—a law that can trip up supervisors who innocently offer diet tips. It’s crucial to train management staff to recognize that discussion concerning an employee’s weight is off-limits.

The Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act states that employers can’t “fail or refuse to hire or recruit, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual … because of … weight.” Courts have interpreted the law to mean a supervisor’s critical comments about an employee’s weight may amount to discrimination.

Recent case: Susan Figgins—who weighs around 218 pounds at 5 feet 4 inches tall—worked as a store manager for Advance America, a paycheck lending business.

Figgins claims her supervisor frequently commented on her weight. The supervisor generally hounded her about dietary habits, advising Figgins to consume more salad and water and dress so she didn’t accentuate her girth. The manager even removed snacks from staff meetings, telling the other employees, “We can’t have candy on the table because of Sue.”

Figgins had two difficult pregnancies while employed by Advance America. While out on company-provided medical leave after the second, Figgins learned Advance America claimed she wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave. She was terminated when her leave expired.

Figgins sued, alleging weight discrimination. The federal court hearing her case ruled she had enough direct evidence of weight discrimination to go to trial. (Figgins v. Advance America, No. 05-10235, ED MI, 2007)  

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