San Francisco ballet school charged with size bias : LUSENET : Unk's Wild Wild West : One Thread

Thursday December 7 9:53 PM ET

San Francisco ballet school charged with size bias

By Andrew Quinn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A prestigious ballet school has been charged with violating San Francisco's new city law against size discrimination for rejecting an eight-year-old would-be ballerina allegedly deemed too large to dance.

In charges lodged with the city's Human Rights Commission, eight-year-old Fredrika Keefer and her mother Krissy Keefer charge the San Francisco Ballet School with dashing Fredrika's dreams because she did not fit criteria requiring applicants to have ``a well, proportioned, slender body.''

``I wasn't skinny enough,'' the fourth-grader told reporters Thursday as news of the case broke. ``Almost all the girls in S.F. Ballet are kind of skinny, and they're really tall. And I'm too short, I guess.''

The Keefers' complaint is the first filed under a seven-month old San Francisco law which added body size to city laws that ban discrimination based on race, color, religion, age and a host of other factors.

The Keefers charged that the San Francisco Ballet School, run under the auspices of the San Francisco Ballet, violated that ordinance when it rejected Fredrika -- who is described by her mother as ``short and muscular.''

Krissy Keefer, who herself directs two dance groups in the city, said her daughter's size was clearly the reason she did not gain admittance to the 325-student school.

``My daughter is exceptionally talented,'' Krissy Keefer told the San Francisco Chronicle. ``Anyone who sees her perform is impressed by her talent.''

In its response filed with the Human Rights Commission Thursday, the San Francisco Ballet School rejected the Keefers' complaint, saying it was ``patently untrue'' that Fredrika was rejected for unlawfully discriminatory reasons. More than 1,400 students applied to the school last year, and 403, or 29 percent, were accepted.

``The school has published criteria for acceptance...and Ms. Keefer, along with many other children who auditioned, did not meet those criteria,'' school lawyer Emily Flynn said.

``Furthermore, contrary to Ms. Keefer's allegations, height, weight and gender are not part of these published criteria, and Ms. Keefer offers no credible evidence that such factors played any role in her case.''

The school, established in 1933 as a training ground for future ballet dancers with the company, begins accepting students at age eight and publishes criteria on which potential candidates should judge their admissibility.

The school seeks ``a healthy child with a well-proportioned, slender body; a straight and supple spine; legs that are well turned out from the hip joint, and correctly arched feet,'' according to Flynn's statement.

But the school adamantly denied it had any specific written height or weight requirements for students, and said physical appearance is never the sole determining factor when auditioning applicants.

Instead, it said it was looking for children who have the potential to become ballet stars -- and that Fredrika, despite extensive dance experience, did not qualify.

``It is axiomatic to say that ballet training requires certain physical attributes,'' Flynn said, noting that the admissions process ``is inherently selective.''

Fat rights advocate Marilyn Wann, author of the book ''FAT!SO?'', said the Keefer case was an important test of the new San Francisco ordinance.

``What if she uses that solid ballet training to go and do modern dance? They are simply denying an eight-year-old training. It is a damaging thing to have criteria for inclusion in some form of education that is not something that the child controls,'' Wann said.

Sondra Solovay, a consultant on weight-based discrimination, agreed, saying the school's aesthetic standards were blatantly discriminatory. ``Sometimes you've got to put your foot down, even if it's in a ballet slipper, and object.''

The school is subject to the San Francisco city ordinance because it receives $550,000 annually from the city's Grants for the Arts program. An official at the Human Rights Commission said it would seek to mediate the dispute before deciding whether to begin a formal investigation.

While Fredrika's case grinds through the city bureaucracy, the dancer herself is concentrating on her next gig: the lead role of Clara in the holiday season Petite Nutcracker ballet being put on by a dance theater where she now attends classes.

Reuters/Variety REUTERS

-- The (latest@in.PC), December 08, 2000


Mom Sues San Francisco Dance School

-- To PC or (not@to.PC), December 08, 2000.

This is absurd. Taking this line of reasoning to its absurd extreme, the parents of a blind son will someday be suing said son's school because he didn't make the football team.

In California, they just might win.

-- J (Y2J@home.comm), December 08, 2000.

If anyone wants to see what direction we're headed, this is it in a nutshell. I can only hope this case is thrown out immediately. Fining Keefer for bringing a frivolous suit would be icing.

But the problem doesn't really lie with the suit, nor with the ligigious nature of some sore losers. It lies with the liberal philosophies that (1) Nobody should ever be denied anything, because it injures their self esteem, and therefore qualifications are irrelevant; and (2) The proper way to make your fantasies come true is to pass a law.

Now ask yourself -- just how could "size discrimination" ever be proved? It's just a fact of life that every applicant cannot be given every position. Are we reduced (as with affirmative action) to determining the proportion of fat people in the population, and requiring everyone who selects from multiple applicants to accept a matching percentage of fat people? How else can we demonstrate violation of this law?

Of course, we need to define a "fat person" specifically enough to decide if any given person qualifies for the "protection" of this law or not. And of course we need people to write the definition, and people to do the measurements, and people to do the evaluation of populations at various places subject to this law, and people to do the enforcement, and people to hear and adjudicate complaints that "my daughter IS TOO fat enough under the rules!" It takes a LOT of bureaucracy to make wishes come true, liberal style. And of course someone must pay for all this.

If the San Francisco Ballet School responds the way most schools have to affirmative action, they will create the "fat group" with a curriculum geared accordingly, just like colleges create a "black" curriculum dumbed down because our public school systems do not produce qualified black high school graduates very often. Of course, this will deny opportunities to qualified and actually gifted dancers who might have had real futures, but this is the price we pay for "equality" by definition among unequals in fact.

Meanwhile, I'll make a note to put on some weight if I plan to move to San Francisco and learn to dance. It will improve my qualifications. In fact, it might be my ONLY qualification, but enough of one!

-- Flint (, December 08, 2000.

Hmmmm... on the one hand, I agree with J. On the other, I disagree with Flint. As John Lennon said, "Strange days indeed,"

Size discrimination would, I imagine, be proved the same way age and racial discrimination are proven. The burden of proof would be on the accuser to prove that the defendant has systematically eliminated candidates (or others) from competition or created a negative enviornment designed to eliminate members of one or more group or impeded their professional or educational progress.

I have known managers who made decisions about hiring based on a candidate's size before. I have on colleague who's convinced that all business developers need to be tan and trim. He turned down one guy who had stellar qualifications but was about 50 pounds overweight for a guy who looked like Biff but couldn't sell his way out of a paperbag. Fortunately, the other candidate got snapped up by a different department and has made quite a bit of money. Biff, well, was sacked in about a month.

I have another colleague who routinely refuses to even look at resumes of coders who have foreign-sounding last names. He says he doesn't need to speak to anyone who's on an employment visa. In all fairness, employment visas are a big problem in IT because they prevent workers from starting right away and add costs to their employment. However, in eliminating EVERYONE whose name sounds like it might not come from middle America, he's lost out on some good candidates who were born here or becamse permanent residents. I myself have a "foreign sounding" last name, and I've lived here all my life. I pointed this out to him once, and he just sort of threw up his hands. What a dipshit.

I'm not defending size discrimination or antoi-size discrimination laws, just speculating on how they might be investigated and enforced.

-- Tarzan the Ape Man (, December 08, 2000.

Discrimination is one of the strongest of human traits and every living person discriminates against someone or something. Like all other attempts to legislate human traits, the absurd direction that is so often demonstrated lately will create negative reactions and additional discrimination. Yes, fat people are most assuredly discriminated against and that is why so many, work so hard, to avoid becoming fat themselves.

This morning, the local news here in SoCal was abuzz over a decision by the City of Los Angeles to severe all ties with the Boy Scouts of America. The City Charter prohibits them from doing any business or having alliances with any person or group that discriminates. The one editorial I heard suggested that the City would be the real loser in this case and they had better put the microscope on other potential discriminators in all sectors.

The Boys Scouts of America are to be applauded for standing up to their beliefs and guidelines, regardless of your take on this issue. I’m sure that each and every one of you has certain standards that could be construed as discriminatory in nature and I doubt you would stand still for outside interference.

We are heading towards a society that will be forced to accept all manner of behavior under the guise of non-discrimination legislation. You will not be pleased.

-- Barry (, December 08, 2000.

I used to work for an IT consulting firm. A couple of years into my career there, I did a brief stint in the HR department. One of my jobs was to review the consultant requisitions that the sales people brought in for accuracy, clarifications and potential "illegal" requirements.

One of the largest brokerage houses on Wall Street was a client of ours, and they need programmers to work nights/weekends to make sure all the batch jobs ran properly. One of their requirements was, "No Orthodox Jews".

Well, I was horrified. Brought it immediately to the HR VP's attention. He explained to me that they were allowed to place such a restriction on the position because their jobs ran nights and weekends, and that included FRIDAY NIGHTS and SATURDAYS. Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work during this time; therefore, they would not have been able to fulfill the job requirement.

As far as this ballet thing goes, I don't know how heavy the girl is, and I don't know what the dance was, but if she's heavy enough, she's going to hinder the performance. Seems to me she probably doesn't have any case here.

Hell, I wanted to be a dancer when I was a kid (went through umpteen years of dance classes), but I was too short (to those who know me, no jokes, please [g]) and my instructors made that clear from the get-go. I'd dance in our shows, but beyond that.....was never going to happen. Dancers (modern, jazz, ballet, you-name-it) require a certain body structure. As far as I'm concerned, THAT'S part of the "job requirements".

This is a good "life lesson" for the kid: You Can't Always Get What You Want.

-- Patricia (, December 08, 2000.

Very well said Patricia!

-- Barry (, December 08, 2000.


My understanding is that you can't discriminate against someone based on religion but you can discriminate based on the ability to perform the job. In other words, a guy could be sitting in front of you in a yarmukel and curls and if he says he'll work Friday nights and Saturday, you have to consider him. Religious discrimination laws have been tinkered with dozens of times in the last ten years and may have changed since you were in New York.


I don't have an issue with the BSA discriminating per se, I just have an issue with them using public funds to do it. The BSA often meets on public property and accepts public funds in certain locales. I have a problem with that.

-- Tarzan the Ape Man (, December 08, 2000.

Ape-Man, it would be difficult to argue the ‘Public Funds’ issue by itself. However, the BSA situation is much more complex than you might imagine. They have many programs in place that have benefited the citizens of Los Angeles greatly. So there has always been a trade- off that has worked well for both parties. The City needs the type of programs that the BSA offers and will have a difficult time replacing them. The BSA will move forward and make due without ‘bending over’ to special interest groups. As usual, the City of Los Angeles will slip just a little further into the abyss.

-- Barry (, December 08, 2000.


No one is stopping the BSA from continuing as an organization. They are only denying public funds to an organiation that practices discrimination. If the BSA is more interested in providing a good organization for boys than receiving United Way funds and meeting at public schools then they will continue their activities in the LA area.

-- Tarzan the Ape Man (, December 08, 2000.

Ape-Man, you have stated: “No one is stopping the BSA from continuing as an organization”. I fully agree. Did you perceive me to say otherwise? The City will lose some magnificent and long-standing programs that their youth sorely need. The BSA will simply transfer their efforts to a more friendly partnership. And the Gay Scout Master wannabe’s will have to look elsewhere to fulfill their ‘scouting’ instincts.

-- Barry (, December 08, 2000.

Last I heard, that was still the law, Tarzan. In fact, one of the things I wondered about was how the recruiters were going to find out a candidate's religion during our interview process. Turns out it wasn't necessary. The recruiter simply asked if they were able to work on Friday night and Saturday. She asked this of ALL the candidates for those jobs.

I was "monitoring" this quite closely (and learning how to interview at the same time). Like I said, I was initially horrified by it, but what we were doing was within the limits of the law.

-- Patricia (, December 08, 2000.


Once again, the BSA will not cease to function in L.A. just because they will no longer get public funding and use of public buildings. The BSA, as an organization, will continue to operate in LA as the after school, volunteer organization they claim to be. Unless of course, they are more interested in receiving public money than being a service organization.

Los Angeles is making the right decision. Public money being the money of ALL taxpayers, should not be sent to groups which discriminate against certain members of the public.

-- Tarzan the Ape Man (, December 08, 2000.

Patricia, I think I misunderstood your original post on the matter. I thought you were talking about ADS not internal reqs. It would be highly illegal (and foolish) to put such a caveat as "No Jews Allowed" into a recruiting ad. Sorry for the mix up.

-- Tarzan the Ape Man (, December 08, 2000.

okay (winks) how BIG was she?

A weeble or what?

Picture an overweight/obese girl w/rolls balleting around the room on big toes? eeeewwwww!!!!!

Hey bartender, give me another, I'm fixin to get flamed for this one


-- sumer (shh@aol.con), December 08, 2000.

Oh, sorry, Tarzan; I didn't make that clear. Yes, these were internal reqs; nothing that was published anywhere. The sales staff would get "job orders" from the clients and then initiate the req in- house. Recruiters would search the DBs, headhunters, etc.; or we'd publish a "laundry list" of skill sets that we needed.

I worked in the business for almost eight years, so I figure that surely everyone knows what I'm talking about, right? ;-)

-- Patricia (, December 08, 2000.

sumer, I find your use of the word "weeble" to be grossly insensitive, but also sidesplittingly funny!

-- David L (, December 08, 2000.

sumer, I find your use of the word "weeble" to be grossly insensitive, but also sidesplittingly funny!

-- David L (

um, thnks there David. I am gross insensitive and very FUNNY @ times.


-- sumer (shh@aol.con), December 12, 2000.

Weebles are very "light on their feet".

-- (, December 13, 2000.

tis cuz "Weebles Wobble, but they dont fall down". :-)

um, weebles dont got no feet do they?

-- sumer (shh@aol.con), December 13, 2000.

It's all Playboy's fault-------

Skinny nudes

-- Lars (, December 13, 2000.

From the article Lars cites: "The models' average body mass index was 39.8 pounds per square foot. Anything under 40.7 is considered underweight."

Pounds per square foot? Oh, I get it, the researchers must have enlarged the photos. Their devotion to professional duty is admirable.

-- David L (, December 13, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ