Weight Watchers is known for helping its customers lose weight. Yesterday, it became known for paying $45,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC. According to the EEOC, Weight Watchers refused to hire a qualified applicant as a group leader because she was pregnant. The applicant, who was a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and had successfully met and maintained her weight goals before becoming pregnant, was told that Weight Watchers did not hire pregnant woman. The EEOC also alleged that Weight Watchers discriminated against the applicant based on her pregnancy-related weight gain when it disqualified her from employment based on its “goal weight” requirement. http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/4-7-14.cfm
Because, with a few exceptions set by some local and state laws, it is not illegal to make a hiring decision based on attractiveness or physical appearance, Weight Watchers’ general hiring requirement that employees/applicants meet a “goal weight” was not challenged by the EEOC. However, when using appearance based hiring criteria, employers need to be careful not to discriminate against applicants because of their race, gender, national origin, disability, religion or other protected class. For example, Abercrombie & Fitch’s policy of hiring “All American” sales people resulted in a claim that the retailer discriminated against applicants and employees on the basis of race because the “All American” ideal was alleged to exclude non-white applicants/employees.