Last week, employment discrimination attorney Alan Schorr, legislative liaison for the National Employment Lawyer’s Association – New Jersey, testified before the Senate Labor Committee about proposed legislation that would expand the already robust protections offered by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law has always been one of the most progressive in the country, establishing gender, race, religion, age, marital status, and sexual orientation among its protected classes. If Senate Bill S1602 is passed, height and weight will be added to the categories of protected  for which discrimination is prohibited.

Senate Bill S-1602 is sponsored by Senator Andrew Zwicker (D),  representing Middlesex County. In advancing the bill, Senator Zwicker said, “It should be unlawful for an employer to impose minimum height requirements to avoid hiring women, and it should be unlawful for an employer to impose weight limits to avoid hiring men and women who do not fit an employer’s subjective vision of what is attractive.”  In support of the bill’s passage, Alan Schorr  spoke on behalf of the National Employment Lawyers Association – New Jersey.

Mr. Schorr spoke frankly, explaining that many employers look for loopholes in the state’s anti-discrimination laws that they can use to discriminate against employees based on their looks or gender. He said that adding height and weight to the state law’s protections is “long overdue.”

Mr. Schorr pointed to historical anecdotes of airlines requiring flight attendants to be young, female, and unmarried, and of restaurants and bars requiring cocktail servers to maintain a certain weight. He called those requirements illegitimate and discriminatory because they had nothing to do with an individual’s ability to perform a job’s responsibilities. He added that the same is true of employers who refuse to hire an individual due to dwarfism or morbid obesity.

If the New Jersey legislature passes the law, it will join New York City and the State of Michigan in prohibiting height and weight discrimination. Addressing concerns that Bill was spawn a flood of litigation,  Mr. Schorr pointed out that there have been fewer than one hundred such cases filed in the state of Michigan in the decade since they passed their height and weight law, and that the language of the bill specifies that in situations where those characteristics are bona fide occupational qualifications, employers will be exempt.

Following Mr. Schorr’s presentation, the measure was unanimously passed by the committee. A similar bill has been introduced in the State Assembly.