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Victoria hospital's job seeker obesity policy spurs debate

Employers in Texas violate the law if they base decisions against hiring someone on race, age or religion. Someone who is a victim of such workplace discrimination is eligible to pursue a legal claim for just compensation. If a prospective employee is overweight, however, there's no law against a business denying them a position.

While formal policies against the hiring of obese individuals are nearly unheard of, it is the policy of Citizen's Medical Center in Victoria. It's been in place for more than a year and it blocks those having a body mass index of more than 35 from being considered for work. That BMI translates to a weight of about 210 pounds for a person 5-foot-5 or 245 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-10

While the county-owned hospital's rule raises hackles among some, the hospital defends it. CEO David Brown says the policy is appropriate in a healthcare setting in which a certain personal appearance is likely to be expected. He says it's a decision aimed at doing what's best for the business and the patients it serves.

While there may be no dispute over the legality of such a rule, there are those who question the wisdom of it. They say it's unusual considering the medical center is currently being sued by three doctors of Indian descent. They allege that a policy instituted several years ago denying them hospital privileges was prompted by racial discrimination. The hospital denies it, but the doctors say they will offer evidence in the form of at least one memo from Brown that suggests otherwise.

Hospital associations at the state and national levels say they are aware of facilities that won't hire individuals who use tobacco, but they say they've never heard of restrictions based on obesity. They note that because some courts have ruled obesity a disability, a policy against hiring obese people could prompt challenges under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Source: The Texas Tribune, "Victoria Hospital Won't Hire Very Obese Workers," Emily Ramshaw, March 26, 2012

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