What makes an action discriminatory? In a recent online article posted by ABC News, a woman who was charged more to get her nails done because she was overweight plans to picket the salon and claims that she was humiliated and discriminated against due to her size. The question then is, is this discrimination? Is there a legal remedy for this woman’s humiliation after being singled out for extra payment due to being overweight?
To begin with, let’s be clear, I absolutely feel for this woman and her situation, but we are not talking about sympathy here, we are talking about legal action. Don’t forget that it is not against the law for someone to be rude, or even an ***hole. But in a situation like this, where a person is refused or overcharged for a service by a business, what can they do to make it stop? This particular example actually occurred in Georgia, but let’s pretend like it happened here in Michigan…
In Michigan, discrimination is governed by the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act. Unlike many states, Michigan has seen fit (pun intended) to prohibit discrimination based upon weight in many situations including seeking employment or being discharged from employment, or seeking housing. The statute also declares that it is a civil right to be free from discrimination based upon your weight, including access to what are called “public accommodations”. A public accommodation includes a business which is open to the public and licensed by the state. So, at first blush one would assume that in Michigan a person refused service or singled out due to their weight could sue and recover damages for weight discrimination.
However, the issue isn’t quite so clear. The section of the statute which outlines the prohibited actions of businesses states that a place of public accommodation (a business) cannot “deny an individual the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or public service because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, or marital status.”
Notice that weight is missing from the list? So here you have a grey area of the law. Protection against weight discrimination is expressly listed in the statute as a civil right, but in the specific section applying to businesses, weight is nowhere to be found. It very well could be that the Michigan Legislature was contemplating a situation like we have here in the question of the overcharge by the nail salon.
Is it reasonable to treat overweight people differently when they cause more risk to a business? In this case, the salon owner claimed that the chairs in the salon could only hold 200 pounds, hence a heavier customer caused great risk of breakage or damage to the $2500 chair, and also that doing the nails of a heavier woman took longer and cost the salon more to service. Do you buy this argument? Would it be ok then for restaurants to charge overweight people more to eat at a buffet because they know they will consume more food? These issues aren’t always as clear as they seem at first.
Do you have any issues that raise similar questions as do employment or other forms of discrimination? We would love to discuss your issues with you. If so contact Ambrose Law Group at (248) 624-5500