Do Male Jurors Discriminate Against Fat Women?

BarristerResearchers at Yale University recently conducted a study with 471 mock jurors. Each of them was given a hypothetical criminal case of cheque fraud, together with photographs of four fake defendants.

The four accused consisted of a portly man, a slender man, a svelte woman and an overweight woman. The jurors then assessed each accused’s guilt on a scale of five, based on their appearance.

The study results showed that male jurors consistently found the fat woman to be guilty, and the bias against overweight women was even greater if the male juror was a thin man. Curiously, this weight bias did not apply to male jurors assessing the guilt of overweight men and female jurors displayed no discrimination against fat people.

Natasha Schevey, who led the research, concluded that weight-based stigmatization is now on par with rates of racial discrimination. In other words, overweight people are vulnerable to bias and discrimination similar to racial prejudice, based on stereotyping that depicts overweight people as “greedy, lazy, unmotivated, and lacking in self-discipline and will power”.

The results of this study are no surprise to researchers who specialize in obesity. Similar studies at Yale have shown that the medical community holds disdain for fat people under their care, even in cases where the physicians themselves specialize in obesity.

Other studies have shown that young people choosing partners would prefer a disabled partner rather than an obese one, and employment research indicates that overweight people are 37 times more likely to suffer employment discrimination.

What is shocking is that gender, disability, sexual orientation, and racial bias is protected by law, but weight discrimination has no legal protection. The victims of weight bias suffer in silence. Is it even possible to change public opinion?

In 2004 there were 7 million overweight people in Canada and 4.5 million obese people.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

6 thoughts on “Do Male Jurors Discriminate Against Fat Women?

  1. Weight discrimination is rampant in our society, and condoned and practiced by many who would never dream of discriminating on any other basis. Negative attitudes permeate our everyday language and many people consider it acceptable to make them the butt of jokes and disparaging photos on the internet. Some people are so entrenched in their misinformation and biases that they consider their actions appropriate. Most people though simply do not consider how their jokes and biases affect others. There are many many people, including elementary school girls who would rather be dead than overweight.

  2. What the study fails so say is whether female criminals weigh more than the males. If so, then the supposedly biased jurors would be doing a better job than the impartial jurors. We know that obesity is linked to impulsiveness which in turn is linked to crime so it’s not that far-fetched if there is a specific gender difference in weight for criminals, perhaps due to drug habits or something.

  3. I’m so glad to see you address this issue. (I love your blog btw!) I wrote a paper on this in my last year of law school. It was called “Fattie Fattie Four by Four Can’t Fit Through the Courtroom Door: Canadian Law’s Inattention to Weight Bias”. The case law on this issue is scant, and the victories that are there are pyric. For example, in the McKay Panos case (airline’s obligation to accommodate with extra seat), the court treated the issue as one of disability. The claimant succeeded because she provided medical evidence of a causal link between a specific medical condition and her excess weight. (Meanwhile, the medical community has yet to come to a consensus as to the causes of extra weight, so even if the claimant can afford to lead the evidence, he or she might not be able to get it. )

    There is a labour law case concerning overweight employees who challenged their employer’s requirement that they tuck in their shirts. The court reversed the tribunal’s decision and held that the requirement was unreasonable. Relying on customer surveys that revealed a general perception that tucked-in shirts did not look more professional (at least on overweight people), the court found that the tucking rule was not necessary to the employer’s business. The employees win the day, not because their employer’s policy was making them feel uncomfortable, but because thin people don’t want to look at overweight people in tucked in shirts anymore than overweight people want to tuck their shirts in. Strikingly absent from the caselaw are the discussions about charter values like dignity and equality that anchor other human rights cases.

  4. Avocatessa Thank you for your interesting comments and good luck with your legal career. If you are interested in doing a guest post on this topic, (500 words or so), don’t hesitate to send it to me. Best regards, Georgialee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s