ADA Ugly: Texas Professor Proposes Extending Federal Protection To Unattractive People

An opinion piece by University of Texas economics professor Daniel Hamermesh makes a novel argument that, because studies show that “ugly” people are paid less and receive lower benefits, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) should extend protection to them in the same way of workers protected from discrimination for conventional physical disabilities like blindness. This would lead to a new term “ADA Ugly” to replace “coyote ugly.” Yet, it might be a bit premature to cancel that botox and cosmetic surgery.

The ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against disabled individuals, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (2006), and an individual is disabled if he has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (2006). A plaintiff must show (1) that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (2) that he is otherwise qualified for the job, with or without reasonable accommodations, and (3) that he was subjected to an adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination.

Hamermesh notes that more attractive people not only receive higher pay and better mortgage rates but higher-earning spouses. One study shows American workers in the bottom seventh in terms of looks earn about $230,000 less in a lifetime than similar workers in the top third of looks. This leads Hamermesh to write:

A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?

The only problem is that it would be entirely unworkable and extend the ADA to the point that it would make a significant percentage of Americans legally disabled. Indeed, depending how deep you go on the attractiveness scale, we could be a majority disabled country when all recognized disabilities are considered from mental illness to physical disabilities are considered. If a lack of attractiveness is “a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual,” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (2006), I expect many people could name life activities denied by their looks. This includes the arbitrary denial of my repeated applications as a Chippendale dancer.

Yet, Hamermesh insists:

For purposes of administering a law, we surely could agree on who is truly ugly, perhaps the worst-looking 1 or 2 percent of the population. The difficulties in classification are little greater than those faced in deciding who qualifies for protection on grounds of disabilities that limit the activities of daily life, as shown by conflicting decisions in numerous legal cases involving obesity.

I am not sure that “we surely could agree on who is truly ugly.” I would be particularly interested in how that standard would be codified or put into an objective regulatory system. I am afraid that this is an eye that would have been best left in the faculty lounge for fund debates over a good port. If nothing else, an evening of drinking would show that ideas like people look better with alcohol than they do the following morning.

Source: NY Timesas first read in the ABA Journal

11 thoughts on “ADA Ugly: Texas Professor Proposes Extending Federal Protection To Unattractive People”

  1. @Jay S.

    Yes, I also thought that this was a Swiftian proposal. I don’t know enough of the professor’s background to know if he is serious, or trolling.

  2. I am more cynical. I think this professor wants to use this unworkable notion as a wedge to overturn all of the ADA.

  3. And I always thought that when I walked into a room people were saying “LIKES”!!
    Now I see they were saying:

    ” yikes
    a term used to show shock or extreme surprise.
    Yikes! That sure scared me!”

    Those of us due compensation I will pick everyone up and in the mean time someone will get the directions as to where we have to go to file our claims.LOL!!

  4. As said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
    -Benjamin Franklin

  5. “If nothing else, an evening of drinking would show that people like ideas look better with alcohol than they do the following morning.”

    lol … sad but true

  6. ObHarrisonBergeron:


    by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

    Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

    It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

    George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.

    On the television screen were ballerinas.

    A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

  7. Let me get this straight. He wants special protection for Grover Norquist?

    Hmmmm….. I have seen Grover on TV and he certainly should qualify.

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