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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
When being tall is a 'disability'
By Susannah Cullinane
BBC News

An employment tribunal has upheld the decision to withdraw an air traffic control job offer to a graduate because of his 6ft 10in (2.08m) height. Is there no law against heightism?

Health and safety assessors had ruled it would be "dangerous" for Ben Sargeaunt-Thomson to have his 38in (0.97m) legs under the desks.

Ben Sargeaunt-Thomson
Ben Sargeaunt-Thomson claimed indirect sexual discrimination

Mr Sargeaunt-Thomson, from Northampton, now works for Eurocontrol in Luxembourg where desk heights are adjustable.

After the ruling, he said: "I will fight this as far as I can because I do believe I should not be discriminated against because of my height in the same way as you cannot discriminate against someone in a wheelchair."

His case is not unique - in July a very tall couple were denied permission to raise the roof of their Aberdeenshire home on the grounds that it would set "a dangerous precedent".

The council instead suggested they buy a bigger house.

Brian Culbert, who is 6ft 10in, and his 6ft wife Fiona also felt they were discriminated against because of their height.

Brian Culbert
Brian Culbert, 6ft 10in, was not allowed to raise his roof

Mrs Culbert said: "Height is actually a disability if you are spending your life banging your head off doorways - my husband must have the patience of a saint because it happens to him all the time."

Some people believe the law must be changed to take account of society's changing shape.

One of them is John Murphy, managing director of the High and Mighty Group, a retail chain specialising in clothes for tall and big men.

He said: "I think it's about time that the government and other agencies started to recognise that as a nation we are getting taller.

"The average height is just short of 6ft and the average weight is getting bigger and a lot of service providers don't recognise it.

"If you go back into the 50s and 60s I think you'll find body shapes have changed and most manufacturers have recognised that - I think it's about time service providers need to accept the fact we're bigger."

Tall people are actively discriminated against. I think we've got to look at people and start recognising there's demand out there for setting up a steering group to look into it
John Murphy
High and Mighty

Mr Murphy said that, at 6ft 3in, he is "not overly tall", but even so things like air travel can be an issue.

The lack of room can be uncomfortable and if a tall person is in a window seat they have to upset other passengers every time they get up to stretch their limbs, he said.

The lack of space between the seats, he said, means "your legs just end up going into cramps".

For adequate leg-room "you have to pay for business or first class at three or four times the prices", he added.

"Tall people are actively discriminated against. I think we've got to look at people and start recognising there's demand out there for setting up a steering group to look into it."

Government commission

The government is in the process of establishing the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

The body will eventually take responsibility for tackling gender, race and disability discrimination and promote equality regarding age, religion and sexual orientation.

The Department of Trade and Industry is involved in the taskforce for the CEHR and is responsible for the Equality Bill, aimed at modernising the UK's equality laws.

A spokeswoman said plans for the commission did not include specifically tackling the discrimination of tall people.

She added that employers could refuse people jobs on the basis of their physical characteristics if they could cause health and safety issues.

But the spokeswoman added: "If someone was to say 'I don't like you because you're tall', that's discrimination."

If that was a reason to terminate someone's employment, it might be covered by employment legislation being treated, for example, as unfair dismissal.




SEE ALSO:
Tall pair fail to raise the roof
20 Jul 05 |  Scotland
Too-tall graduate loses tribunal
09 Sep 05 |  England
A tall story
21 Aug 98 |  UK News


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