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Delta can Discriminate, Says New York Court of Appeals

When Delta Airlines acquired numerous assets of the defunct Pan American World Airways it also hired many of Pan Am''s former employees. But they rejected a number of former Pan Am flight attendents, all with more than fourteen years experiance, some because they did not meet Delta's height and weight standards.

"Discrimination," some tried to claim, and sued under New York's Human Rights law. The State agency in charge of such matters supported the claim.

On December 17, in the case of Delta Air Lines v New York State Divison of Human Rights, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the airline.

The flight attendents had claimed that Delta's weight charts failed to make allowance for the fact that older persons tend to be somewhat heavier than their younger counterparts. But the court failed to find that there was a requirement for such an allowance.

Instead, citing a lack of evidence that the applicant's were medically incapable of meeting Delta's weight requirements "due to some recognizable medical condition," the Court said that it was "satisfied that weight, in and of itself, does not constitute a disability for discrimination qualification purposes."

Under New York law discrimination based upon disability is prohibited; so is dicrimination based upon gender, race, or religious belief. However, there is no prohibition per se against prejudice or bias based on weight. This being the case, said the Court, the flight attendents plight could not be decided in their favor because the use of weight charts as a screening device was not illegal. To have prevailed they would instead have had to demonstrate that they suffered from a "legally defined or recognizable medical impairment which restricts normal bodily function," according to an article in the January 5, 1998, issue of HR Wire.