Are tall people discriminated against?

theme - Body

During my studies, I applied for a part-time job as a salesperson at an international fashion company. After the interview, I was promptly invited to do a test job. Saturday afternoon, okay, noon to 6 p.m., unpaid. What the heck, I thought, if I get the job for that. When at the end of the day the tall employee immediately took away my hope for the job, I changed my mind. "I think it will be difficult for you here, you are just, well, you are too small."

Body height can sometimes play a role when it comes to assigning a job

She pushed around a little, shrugged apologetically, "but we still wish you the best of luck." I was frustrated. After lugging clothes up and down three floors all day, they also noticed that at just under 1.45 meters, I was significantly shorter than most 20-year-olds. Apparently I didn't fit into the concept after all.

Two weeks later I got a job in a deli two blocks away. My size didn't seem to bother anyone there. Not even myself - I'm small, but nothing hurts me, I'm healthy. I have what is known as proportional short stature, which means that I am much shorter than average when fully grown. However, my body proportions are normal. Officially, women who do not grow taller than 1.40 meters are considered short, legally short stature is a disability. Strangers sometimes find me cute and wonder when I turn around and then there is no eleven-year-old standing in front of them. I'm sometimes overlooked and can't get to the top shelf in the supermarket. I don't feel discriminated against because of that. Also not disabled. Despite my small height, I can pursue my current job - as an editor. That's lucky, because for some professions, height is the decisive factor, and I'm not talking about top models.

Courts regularly negotiate whether a minimum or maximum size is justified. They are based on the General Equal Treatment Act. Its aim is to "prevent or eliminate discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual identity."

In principle, body size is a permissible criterion when assigning a job - but only as long as there is an objective reason for it. In the case of a 19-year-old pilot candidate, it was exactly 3.5 cm. She had passed all the entrance tests for training at Lufthansa, but she was just below the required minimum height of 1.65 meters and complained. Because in Germany a man is on average 1.80 meters tall, a woman 1.66 meters. Although the court found a case of discrimination, since the minimum size is regulated by collective bargaining law, the airline is not to blame. The plaintiff appealed several times, but was dismissed because the rejection did not cause any material damage. Finally, she reached an agreement with Lufthansa, and the airline paid her compensation.

Become a policewoman, pilot, customs officer? Sorry

In an emergency, pilots must be able to reliably operate all switches and levers - also on the so-called overhead panel, which is attached to the aircraft roof, is how Lufthansa explains its requirements. There are also such restrictions for flight attendants, but they must not only be too small, but also not too big: Depending on the airline, the height must be between 1.58 and 1.95 meters. There are practical reasons for this: you have to reach the luggage racks above the seats in order to be able to stow luggage incorrectly placed by passengers in the footwell. They mustn't be too big either, so that they don't hit their heads or have to crouch constantly.

So if there is a factual reason for the rejection, i.e. the applicant is actually not suitable for the job due to his or her height, then the employer may reject the application. The General Equal Treatment Act applies where, for example, the allegedly too small body size is used as a pretext: In April 2016, a 1.55 meter tall woman won against the railway in court. She had applied for a job as a long-distance train attendant, but - allegedly because of her height - had not been invited to an interview. A works council member confirmed that. The state labor court of Baden-W├╝rttemberg decided that she was objectively suitable for the position. The employer had indirectly discriminated against the plaintiff because of her gender, in that he had based the refusal on her body size.

The state also requires its employees to be physically fit in many areas. Anyone wishing to work at customs must be at least 1.60 meters tall and - like would-be pilots - not be very nearsighted or farsighted. The same applies to the professional fire brigade. In addition to a minimum body size and very good eyesight, the so-called respiratory protection suitability is mandatory. The body must be fully operational when wearing full gear and breathing apparatus, which weigh up to 22 kilograms.

The state even sets guidelines for professions that are not expected to be at all at first: Civil servants are a special case: they must not be underweight or overweight when applying. With the tenure of civil servants, the state grants the civil servant a certain security. In return, he would like to ensure that the civil servant does not become incapacitated early on, which would cost the state a lot of money.

Should 1.5 cm decide on life paths?

If you want to become a police officer, you also have to have a certain body mass index (BMI) and reach the required minimum height. In North Rhine-Westphalia it is 1.63 meters. Exactly how tall police officers need to be is not that easy to say - in Germany there are different requirements depending on the federal state. Bremen is the only federal state that does not have a minimum size, in Saarland the decision is made on a case-by-case basis. The Berlin police justified the minimum size with the necessary "assertiveness in physical disputes". In addition, the equipment weighs up to 22 kilograms during large-scale operations - this burden on small bodies alone is correspondingly large. A ruling by the D├╝sseldorf Administrative Court in August last year shows that the police can turn a blind eye to their height. One applicant was slightly too small and was rejected even before the aptitude test. Can 1.5 centimeters decide who is allowed to become a police officer and who is not? The court agreed with the plaintiff that she must now be admitted to the aptitude test.

I guess I was just lucky that none of these professions are my dream job. Since the trial work, I have never set foot in the store of the fashion chain again. The clothes were always too expensive for me anyway - and a little too big.

Collages: Renke Brandt

This text was published under the license CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE. The photos may not be used.