State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) is taking on weight discrimination in the workplace by filing a bill in the upcoming legislative session to prohibit employers from using weight or body size in job determination.

House Bill 18 (HB18), also called the "Nick Arjomand No Weight Discrimination Act," would make it unlawful for a person to "deny an individual full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations based upon the individual's weight or body size" and to make it unlawful for an employer to "discriminate against an applicant or employee based upon the applicant or employee's weight or body size; and to create a cause of action against an employer who does so."

The penalties would apply to an employer who refuses to hire, promote, or terminate an employee based on their weight or body size.

The bill would allow an employee who believes they have been discriminated against based on their weight to bring legal action against the employer.

An employer found guilty of violating the proposed law would be required to pay lost wages or benefits accrued. An employer could also be required to pay attorney fees, expert witness fees, and other litigation expenses.

Givan told 1819 News she was made aware of the preponderance of weight discrimination recently and found fighting weight discrimination in Alabama to be a worthwhile endeavor.

"I didn't think it was an issue until people started reaching out, and then I started thinking about how many CEOs do you see that are heavy?" Givan said. "How many people in management do you see that are really, really heavy? You got a lot of issues out there that are masked because people go to work, but they are being discriminated against because they're not a certain weight or size. So I thought it was a worthwhile piece of legislation to sponsor, and I was actually asked to sponsor it."

Givan said the bill is named after a person who faced workplace discrimination and drew attention to what he perceived as a problem affecting Alabama's workforce.

"He is a person who had been discriminated against for his weight," she continued. "Actually, he was one of those persons who said, 'Hey, this is a problem. Alabama is saying they want people back to work. They're saying they want to grow the economy, but yet the workforce is discriminating against people who look like me.' An everyday, ordinary citizen who is being discriminated against just because he's obese."

HB18 has no exceptions for jobs that may have weight or size requirements for any reason. While Givan anticipates amendments to the bill, she intentionally excluded exceptions.

"When I thought about it, I thought there may need to be exceptions, then I started thinking about it. There may be some jobs where someone may need to be a certain size, but do you say that someone needs to be a size two versus a size 16?" Givan continued. "The question becomes, what is determined to be overweight? Because what may be overweight in my eyes may not be overweight in your eyes? It depends on your height, your body makeup; it's a slippery slope. But I'm sure there will be some debate on it."

Givan anticipates an uphill battle in the legislature due to the nature of discrimination bills. However, if necessary, she plans to continue pushing the bill into the next session.

"Discrimination bills are hard in this state anyway; it depends on the type of discrimination," Givan concluded. "But it at least warrants a broader conversation or a broader discussion with regard to how people are seen in the workplace."

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