Salon Charges Overweight Customer Extra
A nail salon in Georgia has kicked up controversy for charging a woman an extra $5 because she was overweight and could damage its chairs.
Michelle Fonville, 40, went to the Natural Nails salon in suburban Atlanta's DeKalb County to have an eyebrow wax and a burnt orange polish applied to her fingers and toes. When she went to pay, the bill she received looked excessive to her.
"I said to the clerk I thought I had been accidentally overcharged," she told ABC News' Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV. "I honestly thought it was an error."
But then, Fonville said, 'when she came over and wrote out the prices she then said, 'I charged you five dollars more because you're overweight.'"
Fonville added: "I was humiliated. I almost cried. I turned my face, to just you know, because tears were forming in my eyes. I said, 'Ma'am you can't charge me five dollars more. That's discrimination. You can't discriminate against me because of my weight.'"
Kim Tran, the salon manager, told ABC that the chairs in her salon can only hold 200 pounds and cost $2,500 to repair.
"Do you think that's fair when we take $24 [for a manicure and pedicure] and we have to pay $2,500 in repairs?" Tran said.
Tran eventually refunded the surcharge. "I didn't want to argue with her about $5. I wanted to make her pleased with her service," Tran said. But she says she told Fonville: "I whispered... I said, 'I'm sorry, next time I cannot take you.'"
Fonville plans to protest outside the salon and says she's considering a lawsuit.
However, Ron Chapman Jr., an attorney in the Dallas office of labor law firm Ogletree & Deakins, says the nail salon hasn't violated any laws with the surcharge -- and a successful suit is unlikely.
"Just as an obese employee would have to show that obesity is a disability [under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act], an obese customer would have to show that obesity is a disability within the meaning of the law," Chapman says. "Without a corresponding medical condition either causing or resulting from the obesity, that's a high hurdle under current law."
The salon is hardly the first business to charge customers a so-called "fat tax." Airlines have been doing it for a couple of years – much to the approval of 76 percent of respondents to a 2010 poll by travel website Skyscanner.
Skyscanner co-founder Barry Smith admitted it's a touchy subject.
"On one hand, it's not unreasonable for airlines to charge extra if they occupy more than one seat. On the other, many would argue it should be the responsibility of airlines to adjust their standard seat size, enabling them to comfortably accommodate all passengers," he said in a statement.
Would you charge an overweight customer extra? How would you have handled the situation?
Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.