Federal court confirms severe obesity is a disability

Technology is not always our friend, especially when it comes to physical activity. Parents everywhere say their kids spend more time texting or playing computer games than they do getting fresh air and exercise. Parents aren’t immune, either. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate for adults has more than doubled over the past 20 years. In Wisconsin, more than 26 percent of adults are obese.

A federal court recently confirmed that severe obesity qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person who is severely obese weighs more than twice as much as the norm.

The court made the ruling in a case brought by an ex-employee of a company that worked with young children whose mothers were undergoing treatment for addiction. When the woman started the job, she weighed more than 400 pounds. During her time with the company, her weight increased to more than 525 pounds.

Nonetheless, she was a stellar employee. According to her performance evaluation, the quality of her work was “excellent.”

She was fired about a year later. The issues cited were “limited mobility” and whether she would be able to administer CPR. Believing that she was fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC took the case to trial after the woman died. Her death was reportedly related to her weight.

We will continue this in our next post, with a discussion of each party’s definition of “impairment” under the ADA.

Source: HRMorning.com, “Severe obesity as a disability: New ADA trend?” Dan Wisniewski, Dec. 29, 2011

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