Can obesity be considered a disability under the ADA?

In popular culture, obesity is often portrayed as a failure of will power. The stereotype is that an obese person is simply someone not strong enough to deny themselves sweets, butter, dairy products and other high-calorie foods.

The reality is much different, say doctors and courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit says that obesity is a physical impairment resulting from a person’s metabolism and neurological systems. That court and others have ruled that obesity can indeed be considered a disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which defines “disability” just as the Americans with Disabilities Act defines it).

Bloomberg notes that the “Second, Sixth, and Eighth circuits, however, have held that obesity isn’t covered by the ADA unless it’s linked to a separate physiological disorder.”

On the other hand, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (enforcer of the ADA) says that obesity alone can be a disability under the ADA.

With that background in mind, consider the case of a manager who was fired by a credit card company after he had four kidney surgeries and became obese. He has filed a lawsuit claiming that his former employer engaged in disability discrimination. He also says his employer failed to accommodate his disability and retaliated against him for his claims under the ADA.

The man was employed as a relationship manager for automobile loan customers. His surgeries led to significant weight gains and body odor, he stated in court documents.

He requested from his employer accommodations that included some telework and an office farther away from other employees. Although HR approved his request, his supervisors shot it down.

Managers and co-workers made derogatory comments about his weight, including suggestions that he join a “fat farm.”

We do not know how the courts will receive the argument his employment law attorney will present, but it’s clear that the case challenges the stereotypes about obesity.

You can discuss your disability discrimination matters with a Milwaukee employment law attorney by contacting Alan C. Olson & Associates.


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