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Leading employment judge calls for law banning 'fattism' in workplace

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Overweight workers could soon have the power to sue their colleagues for cruel remarks about their size, a leading judge has claimed.

Philip Rostant, a judge specialising in employment law, said the only way to tackle so-called ‘fattist’ discrimination in the workplace is through legislation.

Rostant co-authored an academic paper that warned overweight people found it harder to get jobs, were paid less than thinner colleagues and had a greater risk of being dismissed, based on “attitudinal assumptions and negative inferences”.

The paper also pointed out that discrimination against age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability were all illegal under the UK’s Equality Act, but overweight people could only get protection if they could prove they were also disabled.

A new law would mean name-calling or not employing or promoting someone based on their weight could bring similar penalties as discriminating against ethnic minorities or gay people, The Telegraph reported.

In the academic paper, Rostant and his co-author Tamara Hervey, a professor of law at Sheffield University, said they had not explicitly supported a change in the law in the paper but explained: “The implication of our even investigating this is that as a minimum it is an important national discussion to have.

“If you think that discrimination is wrong, that making assumptions about individuals on the basis of their membership of groups is wrong … then logically yes, my view is there is a case for doing that.”

In 1993 about 14 per cent of adults were obese, defined as having a body mass index of more than 30.

That figure has risen to about 25 per cent now. The increase has led to the rise of ‘fat activism’ to outlaw discrimination, the Sunday Times reported.

The academic paper said: “Being overweight, or even obese, is not in itself a prohibited ground of discrimination in UK law, or in the law of the European Union.

“This situation leaves a gap in the law which is remediable only by legislative reform.”

Earlier this month, a Sheffield Hallam University study revealed 181 recruiters given identical CVs with accompanying photographs depicting fat and thin people rejected almost all the candidates who were fat.