Is height discrimination the latest HR concern?

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A Michigan employer settled a height discrimination lawsuit for $215,000 after a former employee sought damages when she was passed over for a promotion.

Destinee Bryce, 24, is 4’7” and was a part-time sheriff’s deputy at Saginaw County in training for a full-time road patrol position when she was terminated despite passing all the necessary certifications. In trial, a supervising sergeant admitted there were apprehensions about Bryce becoming a full-time deputy, but the county did not offer explanations as to why she was sacked, and did not follow the prescribed process when terminating her.

Michigan is the only state that explicitly prohibits height discrimination, although Massachusetts is currently considering legislation that would ban height and weight discrimination in regards to employment.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission policy on height and weight requirements notes that protected groups are likely to be adversely affected, for example women and people of some races and ethnicities are shorter on average, while other groups are more likely to weigh more. For example, when Air Canada's height requirement for pilots was tested in 1990, it was on the grounds that it discriminated against women. Air Canada ended up paying more than $50,000 to the complainants whose applications were turned away on the grounds that they did not meet the necessary height requirements.

The Supreme Court of Canada established that two specific standards must be met for a height requirement to be reasonable. First, there must be an objective relationship between the standards required and the job in question. Second, the standards must have been imposed in good faith.

But banning a subconscious instinct can be near impossible, as a University of Florida study shows. Controlling for gender, weight and age, each inch of height equates to about $780 more per year in wages, on average. The study found height had a greater influence on income than gender, and its effect held steady regardless of an employee’s age.

“Height matters for career success,” says Timothy Judge, UF management professor. “These findings are troubling in that, with a few exceptions such as professional basketball, no one could argue that height is an essential ability required for job performance nor a bona fide occupational qualification.”

“If we’re giving great weight to an attribute like height that’s irrelevant to performance on the job,” he says, “then we’re introducing error in our hiring and promotion decisions that causes inefficiencies in our economy.”

 

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