Height discrimination is a real lawsuit risk

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A Michigan employer settled a height discrimination lawsuit for $215,000 after a former employee sought damages when she was passed over for a promotion.

Destinee Bryce, 24, is 4’7” and was a part-time sheriff’s deputy at Saginaw County in training for a full-time road patrol position when she was terminated despite passing all the necessary certifications. In trial, a supervising sergeant admitted there were apprehensions about Bryce becoming a full-time deputy, but the county did not offer explanations as to why she was sacked, and did not follow the prescribed process when terminating her.

Michigan is the only state that explicitly prohibits height discrimination, although Massachusetts is currently considering legislation that would ban height and weight discrimination in regards to employment. Employers in San Francisco and Santa Cruz are also forbidden for height discrimination, while the District of Columbia makes it illegal to discriminate based on personal appearance.

But banning a subconscious instinct can be near impossible, as a University of Florida study shows. Controlling for gender, weight and age, each inch of height equates to about $780 more per year in wages, on average. The study found height had a greater influence on income than gender, and its effect held steady regardless of an employee’s age.

“Height matters for career success,” says Timothy Judge, UF management professor. “These findings are troubling in that, with a few exceptions such as professional basketball, no one could argue that height is an essential ability required for job performance nor a bona fide occupational qualification.”

“If we’re giving great weight to an attribute like height that’s irrelevant to performance on the job,” he says, “then we’re introducing error in our hiring and promotion decisions that causes inefficiencies in our economy.”
Height discrimination could also be covered by the ADA: last year, an Arizona district court refused to dismiss a disability discrimination claim by a 4’10” employee against the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

“It is plausible that short stature could, in some contexts, substantially limit one or more of the major life activities of an individual,” stated the judgment.

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