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"Fat Law" Should be Repealed
May 14, 2002
by George Getz

WASHINGTON -- A San Francisco ordinance that forced a fitness center to hire a 240-pound woman as an aerobics instructor illustrates why anti-discrimination laws should be repealed, say Libertarians.

"When a fitness firm can be compelled to hire an overweight aerobics instructor, it's obvious that anti-discrimination laws are getting stretched to ridiculous proportions," said Libertarian Party Executive Director Steve Dasbach. "Once you allow politicians, rather than employers, to dictate who gets hired, you pave the way for a litany of loony laws."

A case in point is San Francisco's "fat and short" ordinance, which forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of height or weight.

Last year Jazzercise Inc., the world's largest dance-fitness company, declined to hire 38-year-old Jennifer Portnick as an aerobics instructor, citing its requirement that instructors "look fit." So she complained to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission that the policy violated the "fat and short" ordinance - and last week Jazzercise Inc. agreed to drop the requirement and hire the portly Portnick.

But Libertarians say it's absurd to apply such a measure to a business that earns money by providing instruction on how to lose weight and improve health, said Dasbach.

"Any reasonable American understands this is a case of political correctness run amok," said Dasbach. "But as usual, government action has led to unintended consequences - with ridiculous results. The case of Jennifer Portnick is just one example of the sizable side effects of government regulation."

Besides, said Dasbach, imagine the precedent this case will set. If an aerobics company can be forced to hire an overweight instructor:

* Can private schools be forced to hire illiterate teachers?

* Can taxicab companies be forced to hire blind drivers?

* Can telemarketing companies be forced to hire deaf and mute telemarketers?

Like most wacky anti-discrimination laws, the "fat and short law" is an outgrowth of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dasbach said. Since its inception in 1990, the law has been used in a lawsuit against a company that fired a dentist for fondling his patients, because he had a "sexual addiction"; against a company that fired a worker caught falsifying records, because he had "an impulse to wrongdoing"; and in other bizarre cases.

"The problem is that once you give politicians the power to decide who gets hired and fired, this kind of abuse is inevitable," Dasbach said. "Politicians benefit every time they win special treatment for a particular interest group, no matter how preposterous that benefit is. And the businesses, and their customers, are the only ones who suffer.

"That's why anti-discrimination laws like San Francisco's fat and short law can't be reformed; they have to be repealed. Until that happens, government bureaucrats will continue to throw their weight around."

Supporters of anti-discrimination laws claim that without them, it would be impossible to punish employers who refused to hire people because of their race, sex, or religious views, Dasbach noted.

"But the private marketplace would impose a much harsher punishment on such behavior than any government bureaucrat ever could," he said. "Most employees would refuse to work for such a business, and most customers would refuse to buy their products. Wouldn't you?"

George Getz is Press Secretary for the Libertarian Party, http://www.LP.org.

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