CHICAGO - A few years ago, Susan House of Chicago applied for a union education position in California. Her qualifications were top-notch.
Ms. House had worked as a welder for more than 10 years, helping to organize a chapter of the same union at her previous job. During that time, she'd earned a bachelor's degree in English, specializing in the communications and writing skills the position required. The union's international office recommended her for the job, and the man in charge sent her a plane ticket so he could meet her in person.
“I'm fat,” she said simply.
But the implications of her failed job interview are anything but simple. Although over half the people in the United States weigh above their ideal weights and 3 percent to 5 percent, or at least 8 million people, weigh at least 100 pounds more, job discrimination against people of size is common, subtle, and generally ignored.
A survey by the National Association for Fat Acceptance, based in Sacramento, says 40 percent of fat men and 60 percent of fat women stated that they had not been hired for a job because of their weight, and 30 percent of fat respondents believed they had been denied a promotion for that reason.
A paper written by John Cawley, a professor in the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, points out that white women who are overweight by 65 pounds earn 7 percent less than their thinner colleagues.
Despite its prevalence, weight discrimination is difficult to prove and has little support within the country's legal system.