Job Seekers Face Rampant Discrimination

By Debra Wheatman

On September 2, 2011

In Interview Tips

About job discrimination


If you are old, overweight, female, and unemployed, look out in today’s job market. While racial discrimination lawsuits are still the number one type of case seen by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), other types of discrimination are on the rise.

Since 1964, the federal government has legislated numerous laws intended to protect workers from job discrimination. Let’s review them briefly:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from wage discrimination.
  • The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), protects individuals who are 40+ years of age.
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability for federal programs.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information.
  • While the EEOC doesn’t regulate discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has interpreted the prohibition of discrimination based on conduct to include sexual orientation.


Notably missing from this list is discrimination against obesity and discrimination against the unemployed.  Let’s discuss obesity first. Millions of American job seekers are overweight. If you are in the job market, you most likely can’t afford to wait 1-2 years while you shed those unwanted pounds.  Unfortunately, societal beliefs about obesity cannot only cost you a job, they can cost you job earnings according to a variety of research studies.

Employers discriminate against obese people for numerous reasons.  One of the most common reasons cited is the cost of mounting healthcare. Other reasons include social perception that overweight individuals are somehow sloppy or lazy.  Interestingly, research shows that obese women are more often discriminated against than their male counterparts.

A study at Western Michigan University found that weight had a negative impact on both job offers and job placement. Obese women and minorities were the victims of greater weight discrimination than obese men. While there are some laws against obesity discrimination, there aren’t many; and let’s face it, many companies break these laws in covert ways that never wind up being subject to prosecution. While anti-discrimination laws can be put into place, they are very difficult to enforce.

Recently, I wrote an article about discrimination against the unemployed for Glassdoor – It pointed out that currently there is no law against discriminating on the basis of unemployment. It is so bad that hundreds of the jobs listed on websites like CareerBuilder, Monster, and are blatantly discouraging job seekers who are unemployed from even applying.  How sad is that?

Age discrimination is another issue that plagues highly qualified people. As baby boomers get older, this is an increasing problem.  Hiring managers, many of whom are themselves in their 50s, have been known to discriminate against aging workers despite the obvious irony!  There are a few tricks that you can use on your résumé and cover letter to minimize the impact that your age has on obtaining interviews; although when you meet in person, keep in mind appearance matters!  

Here are a few tips to help you minimize the impact that some of the more covert forms of discrimination can have as you look for a new job:

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make discrimination go away; but I can’t, and neither can you.  Instead of being resentful, empower yourself to be the best you can be.  Even with better legislation, discrimination will continue to exist. With that in mind, it makes sense to make every effort to improve your job search skills and increase the number of prospective opportunities.  Older, heavier, unemployed people do get jobs even if it is statistically more challenging. You can too!   

2 thoughts on “Job Seekers Face Rampant Discrimination”

  • Donna Svei  says:
    September 2, 2011 at 5:24 am

    Oh Debra,

    You reminded me of a female direct report who told me that it demeaned her to report to a woman (me) in the same conversation in which she told me that she wanted to be promoted into management.

    I've often said that laws don't eliminate discrimination, they just drive it underground.

    On job boards, is it fair to criticize them when their customers are in compliance with the law? I imagine they might expose themselves to legal action if they refused to take ads simply because they didn't "like" their content.

    Would you criticize a job board for running ads posted by tobacco companies?

    Let's name the specific companies that post that the unemployed need not apply. Let them take the hits to their brands.

    Thank you for a thought provoking post!

    Donna Svei

  • John Clemons  says:
    September 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Well done article, clearly researched to make a point – one that is disappointing and discouraging for those who may be seeking employment and fall into the mentioned areas – which many times is beyond their control. However, awareness brings insight and new approaches to career searches. Thank you, Debra.

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