To eat that extra piece of pie or not? That is not a regular question for employment attorneys. But, now our employment discrimination lawyers can respond. Have the extra slice of pie and make it ala mode. Your employer cannot discriminate or fire you for being fat (mostly).
In 2008, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act (ADAAA) expanded the definition of disability. Interpreting this change in definition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and at least one court of law have further expanded the legal definition of when obesity constitutes a disability. Under the original ADA, obesity was considered a disability only when it was due to an underlying physiological disorder, like diabetes or a thyroid condition. According to the EEOC and one recent court decision, however, employees need no longer establish that their obesity is due to a physiological disorder. Rather, obesity by itself – whether morbid, severe, or simple obesity – can cause sufficient impairment or be perceived to be a disability.
The EEOC now claims that basic obesity, without any underlying condition, can sufficiently impact life activities like bending, walking and transportation. Obesity should now be treated as a physical impairment. Morbid obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher. Severe obesity is a BMI of 35-39.9. Simple obesity is a BMI of 30-34.9.
In early 2012, the Montana Supreme Court, in a disability discrimination case, held that obesity, even when not the result of a physiological disorder, should be considered “an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
A few months later – in July 2012 – the EEOC settled a disability discrimination lawsuit with an employer. The central issue in that case was whether morbid obesity was a disability. There, the employee had been able to perform the essential duties of his job and had received good performance reviews. His employer refused to make an accommodation (a forklift truck seat belt extension) for his morbid obesity and subsequently fired him. In a press release announcing the settlement, the EEOC stated, “The law protects morbidly obese employees and applicants from being subject to discrimination because of their obesity.”
A word of caution to employers: consider these recent rulings when making employment decisions, particularly determinations related to hiring, firing, and accommodation policies, that could negatively affect obese or overweight employees.
The law concerning whether obesity qualifies as a disability under the ADA is complicated. Contact an employment attorney in your area for more information.
If you even think that your employment rights have been violated or that you might need an employment lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 271-3742. The Spitz Law Firm is dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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