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NY Teacher Fired Due to Size

A New York City teacher was fired due to his size.

The teacher, Michael D. Frank, who is 6-foot-4, weighed 325 when he was fired in May 2004 after four years of teaching seventh- grade math at the Lawrence Middle School, according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

Despite more than a dozen "overwhelmingly positive" reviews from four supervisors over the years, he said his fortunes changed abruptly in February 2003.

That's when the assistant superintendent for curriculum who was evaluating him for tenure observed his class. She described his lessons as "well- planned" and "well-executed," according to the May 11 complaint. But she also said, "You are so big and sloppy," and that his "obesity was not conducive to learning."

"Big and sloppy." Stereotype much? This is a pretty clear case, I would think, given he had proven he could teach just fine.

The part that makes me uncomfortable is this:

Frank's lawyer said that obesity is a medical condition protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act and New York State human-rights laws. Those laws make it illegal to fire someone because of a disability.

It would be very unfortunate if fat had to be classified as a disability in order for justice to be served. [Thanks, Kim!]

Follow-Up: Fat-Hating Doctor In the Clear | Oak Park: Open to Lane Bryant, Now

chartreuse July 10th, 2006 | Link | That's really, really
That's really, really shocking, especially in a climate where it's both difficult to find teachers who are good at teaching, and difficult to fire teachers who are bad at teaching. It's also strange to note this guy isn't really all that fat, his BMI is 39.6 and the "real height-weight chart" gives a sense of what he might look like: http://www.cockeyed.com/photos/bodies/606-330.shtml . Obviously, firing him for his weight would not be okay no matter how fat he was, and I am not implying otherwise. It's just that I find it very, very unlikely that there aren't other teachers in the same school system who are as fat or fatter, so I wonder why he was singled out?
Euterpist July 10th, 2006 | Link | The "disability" defense
The "disability" defense really bothers me. I think that it buys into the "fat is bad" mnindset that we so need to break. We're fat, not defective; we don't need to be cured. In any case, wouldn't his students' standardized test scores be a better indicator of his class learning counduciveness (if that's even a word) than his weight? I also agree with Chartreuse; in an environment in which we desperately need good teachers, it seems self-destructive to dismiss one due to the aesthetic sensibilities of a single fat-phobic administrator.
Euterpist July 10th, 2006 | Link | mnindset = mindset. I can
mnindset = mindset. I can spell, I jsut cant tipe wirth shut.
DeeLeigh July 10th, 2006 | Link | This is an excellent example
This is an excellent example of why we need to get weight and height added to all the states' anti-discrimination laws. I doubt the guy is disabled in any way. It sounds like his firing was due purely to discrimination based on appearance.
joltinjo July 11th, 2006 | Link | Unfortunately, Michigan is
Unfortunately, Michigan is the only state that prohibits discrimination based on weight when weight is not a bona fide occupational qualification. That leaves lawyers with little alternative for their clients than to make the disability argument. Otherwise, most places employment is at will, and if they don't like what you look like, there's not a whole lot of ammo to go after them. I can't believe that only one jurisdiction in this country recognizes the reality of fat discrimination.
2DayIs4Me July 11th, 2006 | Link | ... and just think what
... and just think what lessons the seventh grade math students learned from this incident... *shudder*
Fat_Boy July 11th, 2006 | Link | Good evening everybody. I
Good evening everybody. I just saw the picture of the gentleman posted at: http://www.cockeyed.com/photos/bodies/606-330.shtml Height, 6 ft. 6 in. Weight, 335 pounds. BMI 38.70 which dose fall in the obese catagory, but not "morbidly" obese. That would be a BMI of 40 or more. But the man in the picture does not look obese to me. He's just a naturally big person, and looks quite healthy, and certianly NOT sloppy! So we can assume that the teacher who was fired probably looked like the big man in the picture. Anyway, I think that the BMI charts are a lot of hooey, and horse hockey, and pure unadulterated bull crapola. (someone stop me before I start using obscenities.) :) Our President, Baby Bush, son of Papa Bush, would be classified as overweight, even though he exercises a lot, and is only about 10% percent body fat. According to the BMI chart, Arnold Schwarzenegger would be classified as obese, even though he pumps a lot of serious iron, is muscle bound, and probably no more than 7% percent body fat. Now I'm only 5 ft. 6 in. and weigh about 312 pounds, BMI 50.35, which makes me "super morbidly obese" or Obesity Class III. So, I admit that I'm obese, but I'm not sloppy. I bath almost every day, and when I go out, I'm always neatly dressed. I think it is absolutely outrageous that a perfectly good teacher would be fired just for being fat. The worst teacher I ever had was a muscle bound athlete, my Physical Education instructor who harassed me becasue I was lousy at sports. I was once expelled from school because I failed to climb a stupid rope in a gymnasium. The reason why I couldn't climb the rope, was because when I was four years old, I fell out of the car, and my left knee struck the pavement, so as I was growing up, I walked with a limp, and as a teenager, I became obese because I was unable to be very active. Some of the best teachers I ever had were very fat. In the seventh grade I had a history teacher who was enormously obese, but he was the most gentle person I had ever known, always neatly dressed, and he carried is weight very well, and was cartianly no slob. When I was living in Truth Or Consequences New Mexico, I had this really bad English Literature teacher who was really bad. He was tall and skinny, and wore a sweater even in hot weather, and as we all entered his classroom, he would shut the door, close all the windows, and turn off the fan, and the classroom became very hot, and since I was getting fat, I really suffered from the heat. As a teacher he really sucked on all four cylinders!!! So, I had some really crummy teachers who should have been fired because they were such a--holes. It's not fair that an excellent teacher would be fired just for being fat.
Joycelyn July 11th, 2006 | Link | The reason they fired him
The reason they fired him after four good evaluations is that he was coming up for tenure just when this new person got control. She knew that if she didn't take her chance to get rid of the fat man now, she would never be able to. They go through hell firing bad tenured teachers, think of how hard it would be to fire a good tenured teacher! One of the best teachers I ever had was a very fat woman. She was a gifted teacher and loved kids and we knew it. How sad for children when they are robbed of a good teacher because some idiot's personal bias.
semantique July 11th, 2006 | Link | Paul writes: It would be
Paul writes: It would be very unfortunate if fat had to be classified as a disability in order for justice to be served. Euterpist writes: The "disability" defense really bothers me. I think that it buys into the "fat is bad" mindset that we so need to break. We're fat, not defective; we don't need to be cured. I think it may be time for us to reframe our understanding of disability issues. At this point, our agonizing over discrimination has caused us to ghettoize those who are disabled, and even worse, buy into the really troubling notion that disability is bad and in need of a cure. This is a huge concern within disability activism and scholarship. Many in this camp look to better living conditions-- it is a world that needs to be cured of assumptions that all bodies function alike, not the innapropriate body that needs transformation. I appreciate the concerns that are articulated here, although frankly, I am having a harder time buying them than ever given the work to inclusion and non-discrimination being accomplished by the disabled community. I fear that every defense I have heard on the subject only further reveals the desire to create an other than demonstrates that we, the fat, are acceptable bodies, unlike these disabled bodies who, as euterprist argues, are bad and in need of a cure (a pretty broad assumption and one that I think the deaf community, among others, would fight). Seriously, the language of "defect" is pretty pernicious and needs to be avoided at all costs. That said, I understand the desire not to classify obesity as a disease since that gesture may, in fact, give too much ammunition to those attemption to limit the fat acceptance and rights. Of course, ironically, as we see, this decision also gives us the power to fight the draconian measures installed. Whew, it's really complicated, so I don't propose we come to a conclusion at the moment, but I do suggest that we find ways to engage with these problems that do not resurrect the very myths and notions about the disabled that the diability community works so hard to dispel.
chartreuse July 11th, 2006 | Link | [em]That leaves lawyers with
[em]That leaves lawyers with little alternative for their clients than to make the disability argument.[/em] I don't understand this. Do individual states have laws that prohibit discrimination based on, say, blonde hair? Or crooked noses? Or freckles? How is this different from any other discrimination based on appearance?
jlm July 11th, 2006 | Link | Thank you, semantique, for
Thank you, semantique, for saying what I've been dying to say. And of course, you said it much better than I could, ;). I recently heard disability acitivist Simi Linton give a reading of her new autobiography, My Body Politic, and she shared that the huge majority of job discrimination cases that are filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act fail (I can't remember the percentage she used, but it was somewhere between 75-95%). I can't imagine that more nebulous claims of 'appearance' discrimination would fare better than those filed under the ADA, especially with the recent right-ward slant of the Supreme Court. Disability activism offers SA the best blue print for real, permanent change, and I would urge everyone here interested in activism to seek out more information on disability studies and activism, particulalry in the Deaf community, as semantique points out.
MorgnsGrl July 11th, 2006 | Link | Ugh. This makes me feel
Ugh. This makes me feel ill. One of my favorite teachers in school was a male math teacher who was fat. He was actually considerably fatter than the man in the example of what a 6'6" 335 lb man would look like photo. He was also kind, patient, and his class was the only place I wasn't made to feel stupid and slow because of my math issues. Without him, I doubt I would have bothered to continue struggling through future math classes. The thought of students being deprived of lessons that are "well planned and well executed" because the teacher isn't thin enough to suit the assistant superintendent of his school system.
MorgnsGrl July 11th, 2006 | Link | (Um, sorry. Got distracted
(Um, sorry. Got distracted by my 5 year old. That last sentence should end "...school system is infuriating.")
chondros July 11th, 2006 | Link | I agree with those who say
I agree with those who say that fat people have little opportunity for legal redress except under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I also agree with those who do not wish to concede that being fat is a disability. Being fat may constitute a disability or it may not, depending on whether or not one's weight is great enough to create a significant impairment. But the fact is, being fat is very seldom like being paralyzed or being blind -- the great majority of fat people can do everything that non-fat people can do. To say this is not necessarily to define fat people in opposition to the disabled "other." It is simply to state a fact. And it may sometimes be important to state this fact because fat people are often seen by society as a group of diabled people who have "chosen" their condition and are therefore subject to the stigma of disability but not entitled to the compassion that is usually accorded the disabled. From a legal standpoint, however, I think we may be able to have our cake and eat it too on this particular issue. It is my understanding that the ADA covers not only those who are disabled, but those who are regarded as disabled. So says this EEOC webpage, for example: Link. As I said, it seems to me that this is how fat people often are regarded. Is there a lawyer here who can comment on the rights and remedies of fat people under this provision of ADA?
chondros July 11th, 2006 | Link | Oops. Let's try that
Oops. Let's try that again: Link
jlm July 11th, 2006 | Link | Chondros, The points you
Chondros, The points you bring up about disability and fat are the exact same things that the Deaf community says (and is why both semantique and I mentioned them in our posts), but yet they usually accept the usefulness of the label disabled as a way to re-define what a 'normal' body is or can be (just like many of us want to reclaim the word fat). It is as much a strategic move as it is a way to de-pathologize a whole range of bodily conditions that need not be considered a disease or a disability, but at this juncture no better term than 'disability rights' has been formulated to articulate it. For example, many in the Deaf community are against cochlear implants for similar reasons to why many of us working for body liberation are against WLS, viewing it as 'normalization' surgery and not a 'cure' for a wrongly designated 'disease' or 'disability.' This is why, whether you want to forge an alliance with the disablity community or not, whether you are comfortable with the term disability if it is used to label fat or not, you should at least look at how the disability community itself defines disability before rejecting any and all forms of fat=disability. We can't expect others to adopt our terminology without offering the same courtesy to others fighting discrimination. It is of course problematic to label fat as a disability, but then again if we are working towards a planet where everyone can feel comfortable and free from bigotry in their own bodies, then we should require ourselves to look more closely when other people are discriminated against using medical terminology. I am also reminded of the intersex community, and how the use of disability to describe their condition is just as problematic, if not more so, than fat people being designated as disabled. At least no fat person is forced to undergo the types of medical interventions many intersex people are forced into. I would suggest that in the future, we keep in mind the difference between what the culture at large means when they say disability, and what disabled people mean when they say disabled, and try to work against the former and not the latter, for that marginalizes a group of people who have been very welcoming, in my experience, of people doing fat activist work.
semantique July 11th, 2006 | Link | Now it's my turn to thank
Now it's my turn to thank you, jlm. And while giving my "aww shucks" say that you certainly have a way with words. The stakes were clarified in a most lovely manner.
Euterpist July 11th, 2006 | Link | [T]he great majority of fat
[T]he great majority of fat people can do everything that non-fat people can do. Thank you, chondros, this is exactly what I meant. My elegance of expression is limited at the best of times. When something infuriates me like this story does, it's non-existent. When I said "We're fat, not defective; we don't need to be cured," I was referring (obviously much too obliquely) to the discussion of the X-men movie from a couple of weeks back. I never meant to imply that there is anything wrong with those who are officially designated "disabled" that isn't wrong with the general population (that is, each group has its fair share of both jerks and wonderful people); however, in general, the "disabled" do face more challenges than most fat people do. I think that it trivializes those challenges to use the term "disabled" too broadly. On the other side of that coin, I suppose that fighting for doors, seats, etc. that are wide/sturdy enough for people of girth is little (if any) different from the fight for wheelchair accessibility. The one challenge that the fat face that the "disabled" don't is the moral superiority of a great deal of western society. In general, society does not look at someone in a wheelchair and assume that he's there because he got behind the wheel after too many mojitos; they assume a medical condition or an accident for which the victim is not to blame. Not so with the fat community. Much of western society zealously believes that the fat are that way because we continually stuff our faces and sit on our fat asses all day, and any of us with the audacity to challenge this characterization is either lying or delusional. This in spite of almost 50 years of research showing that weight isn't the demon the diet industry would have us believe and that long-term weight loss is virtually impossible. [W]e should require ourselves to look more closely when other people are discriminated against using medical terminology I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. Your example of the intersex community is good. I also hate it that those with brain-chemical imbalances are considered "mentally" ill, implying that their illnesses are somehow different (and somehow more "their fault") than having a chemical imbalance in another part of the body. It's utterly irrational that a person who needs medication to prevent hearing voices, or cycling between dangerous emotional extremes, or simply to function has to pay more (and with most insurance companies, a higher percentage) for them because their issue is a brain chemical than they would if they had diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Sorry, didn't mean to wander so far off topic there. It's just another marginalization that seriously irritates me.
imfunnytoo July 11th, 2006 | Link | Except of course, for those
Except of course, for those who are, for lack of a better term "dual eligibles" (Existing disabilities distinct and completely separate from fat) "You wouldn't be in that chair if you lost weight" No, actually, I'm in the chair because of Cerebral Palsy. Separate from that, I am fat. BMI 30+ "Most fat people can do everything that the able can." I'm glad for the SA acceptance side of the table that this has been articulated. It is important to be very clear on that.
joltinjo July 12th, 2006 | Link | [em]That leaves lawyers with
[em]That leaves lawyers with little alternative for their clients than to make the disability argument.[/em] I don't understand this. Do individual states have laws that prohibit discrimination based on, say, blonde hair? Or crooked noses? Or freckles? How is this different from any other discrimination based on appearance? Chartreuse, fat discrimination is more than discrimination based on just "appearance." It's discrimination based on a whole host of assumptions of what it means to be fat. E.g., fat = lazy, stupid, smelly, etc., etc. The Michigan Legislature has merely recognized that this discrimination takes place in reality and therefore has made weight a protected class, similar to race, sex, age, veteran status, etc.
diane July 12th, 2006 | Link | I beleive the real reason
I beleive the real reason for this man's dismissal is as someone already stated--he was up for tenure, so they sacked him using fat hatred. The stereotype is fat people are perceived as sloppy, that's why the supervisor used that comment which will be put down against him as "unprofessional manner and appearance". I hope he's able to fight it. Good teachers are hard to find. As for fat is a disability.... I remember having to get our family physician to fill in a form so I could participate in a program in London when I was in college. At that time I was the assistant dance teacher for both tap and jazz classes, which were a total of 10hours weekly, plus I was in rehearsals for two musicals. However, my dr said he HAD to mark down on the form that I was disabled--he put "patient is obese". Meanwhile I didn't have any medical problems except allergies! I remember being soo pissed off and then really nervous that the stupid comment might disqualify me from going. It was humiliating and nervewracking, but I told him to do what he's gotta do, but I have no medical problem. I also said if I wasn't able to go, I was coming back to his office and tap dancing on every one of his counters until I scuffed and destroyed every single one, and then we'd see how disabled due to my weight I was. He laughed, saying I was always soo funny, but that not to worry, it's just he has to put it down because I was obese and thats considered a disease. I've thought about that alot since then.. and for me, I don't think anyone is disabled because they're fat. A friend of mine was around 400lbs. She fell on the ice one day during a shoot. She had big knee problems after that. Now although her weight excerbated the damage to her knee, it wasn't the reason she fell and it wasn't the cause of her problem. The reason she fell was she slipped on the ice, the cause of her knee damage was in it hitting the cold hard ground. But I remember hearing soo many people talk as if the fat itself and not her falling is what caused her problem. It got tiring correcting them. So I feel it's the same with other medical conditions as well. Fat may be associated with it, but by itself it's never really the cause. Like sleep apnea, it's made worse the higher a person's weight, but the person's weight is not the reason the person has sleep apnea. It's the same for diabetes, cholesterol, and the list goes on. Also, I feel that some of the comments people made in trying to express their feelings on disassociating being disabled with being fat, are honestly not trying to superimpose negativity on anyone who is disabled. Someone I greatly admire is an alumnus from NYU and his name is Brother Rick Curry. He founded the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, and when he gives lectures, he always reminds people that their "group", meaning those with disabilities, are very open and non-discriminating because anyone can join them at any time. We're all just people trying to get along in our lives the best we can. I don't think I'm articulating what I'm trying to say very well, but I hope you at least get the gist of my meaning, so I'll stop rambling for now.
vargas July 12th, 2006 | Link | It's difficult to believe
It's difficult to believe that the administrator can get away with firing him and then admitting that he was fired for his appearance (being too fat in her eyes). Worried about tenure? For a good teacher? Apparently good education for the students at that middle school is not at the top of the list for this administrator.
pckim July 12th, 2006 | Link | You know If I was that
You know If I was that administrator I would have been trying to keep all the good teachers I had. That was a stupid act on her part because great teachers are hard to find. Although I am surprised she didn't give him the option of losing weight before she gave him the ax.
lonelygirl July 12th, 2006 | Link | Wow, this type of thing is
Wow, this type of thing is so discouraging. It makes me fear that no matter how hard I work, and no matter how well I do my job, people will always perceive me as being lazy and sloppy because of my weight. And how sad for the kids, not only to lose a great teacher, but to see that, at their school, weight and appearance are considered one's most important attributes.
honeybuny July 14th, 2006 | Link | i'm pretty positive his
i'm pretty positive his firing is more about tenure than his weight. simply put, if he's fired before he gets tenure, they can hire another schmoe and pay him low wages until HE gets up for tenure and do the same thing. schools save money this way. i know because my mom not only was president of the school board in my school district, but she's now a teacher that had to fight to get tenure.
rebelle July 15th, 2006 | Link | It seems rather clear-cut
It seems rather clear-cut from the information presented in the article that this is blatant discrimination regardless whether the teacher is deemed to have a disability. Even if the state does not acknowledge weight discrimination, what happened to him was a moral wrong. There was nothing wrong with how he was performing his job; therefore, this psycho witch bigot made an indefensible decision. I am somewhat optimistic that a jury will be able to to see this quite clearly and find in his favor.
JP July 16th, 2006 | Link | I am infruiated by the fact
I am infruiated by the fact we even feel compelled to defend ourselves against the ignorant sterotypes perpetuated by the idiot who fired this teacher ("I may be obese, but I bathe every day and dress neatly"). I'm reminded of an incident when I was about 16 (this was 14 years ago) and attending a summer program for creative writers at a women's college in Virginia: all the gals were sitting around in a common room, watching "Oprah," and one of the quite slender girls commented that she couldn't BELIEVE that Oprah was getting so popular, given that she wasn't a good role model for young people. It took me a moment to realize that, no, this girl was not a racist, nor was she referring to Oprah's then recently-admitted foray into trying hard drugs--she was fatphobic and was referring to (as she actually explained) the fact that Oprah was so terribly overweight! What kind of lesson is a very successful fat woman teaching the young people of America? Argh. At the time, you know, I don't think I actually said anything to her. I took my then-size 24 self and left the room. If I had that moment back...
mporebski July 19th, 2006 | Link | This just makes me sad, very
This just makes me sad, very sad. If they think 325 lbs. at 6'4" is huge, they've got another thing coming. I saw the picture of the fellow on the link and he's quite attractive and seems like a kind fellow. I'm 5'3" and 275 lbs., what the hell do they think of me????? It took me over a year to get a job as a legal secretary in the city of Chicago and after a while I started getting paranoid about my size. Was it true? I'm not sure, luckily I got hired by a terrific law firm who couldn't care a whit about my size, they are interested in my abilities. But for some people that isn't even enough. Something has to change, I mean drastically.
LLW July 22nd, 2006 | Link | "obesity is not conducive to
"obesity is not conducive to learning" rotflmao. Where are the statistics that support that allegation? Oh well, there are so many extra math teachers out there ready to jump at that job. Oh wait. No there aren't. What was the Flannery O'Conner line...? "she'd have been a good woman if somebody had shot her every day of her life." Pretty much what I think of this administrator

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