Who Will Stand Up for the Ugly?

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- If you've gobbled up so much turkey stuffing and pumpkin pie that you're rushing toward fat city, take heart! The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has ruled that you can't legally be denied a job, or get fired, because you are obese.

Even if you've made every day a Thanksgiving-type feast and are "morbidly obese" -- twice the recommended weight for your height -- the federal courts are, for the first time, giving you protection in the workplace. That three-judge appellate panel in Boston said: "In a society that all too often confuses 'slim' with 'beautiful' or 'good,' morbid obesity can present formidable barriers to employment." So the judges told the state of Rhode Island to pay $100,000 to 300-pound Bonnie Cook for denying her a job as an attendant at a school for mentally retarded people.


The court said, in effect, that Ms. Cook was a handicapped person, and it rejected the argument that she could voluntarily lose 100-plus pounds and become hireable.

It is noteworthy that both the American Civil Liberties Union and the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission argued that the federal disabilities law protected Ms. Cook from job discrimination.


Some other conditions that the EEOC says may be protected by that law are mental illness, back impairment, seizures and learning disabilities.

zTC All are decided on a case-by-case basis.

Now, before you grab any leftover turkey wings and mincemeat pie, take note of an important area of job discrimination that neither the Congress nor the courts has yet outlawed, as far as I know. Just before drowning my mashed potatoes in gravy, I read a Wall Street Journal article about studies showing that "ugly" men and women usually earn less than their "attractive" or "beautiful" counterparts.

It seems that economists Daniel Hamermesh at the University of Texas at Austin and Jeff Biddle at Michigan State University have discovered that ugly men make 9 per cent less for doing the same job as an attractive guy, but homely women make only 5 per cent less than a good-looking female competitor.

Reading that article about the multiplicity of discriminations in the workplace, and the nuances of all the unfairness, was enough to drive me to another helping of wild rice and candied yams.

I could understand why ugly men and women don't get the fat paychecks of TV anchors and lingerie models. But I was appalled to read that even "ugly" men and women who lay bricks and do factory labor also get shafted at the pay window.

In my post-Thanksgiving daze, I harbor the hope that some appellate court, the ACLU, the NAACP or some group will come to the defense of those of us who weren't born to cavort with "the beautiful people." But the challenge may be too great -- especially when Messrs. Hamermesh and Biddle tell us that an ugly woman is doubly cursed. More likely than not, they say, she is married to some guy who has "unexpectedly low human capital."

That euphemism means, I guess, that he's ugly too -- or obese, or in one of those other categories of people the EEOC and the courts have to protect.


8, Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.