Best Disabled Employee Lawyer Response: Can I be fired for being fat? Is Obesity a protected class under the ADA? Can my job discriminate against fat workers? How do I find the top disability discrimination attorney in Ohio?
In October, our employment lawyers blogged about the American Medical Association (“AMA”) labeling obesity as a disease and the impact that this would under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). We blogged that this would open the door to disability discrimination lawsuits. This month, a federal district rejected a motion to dismiss a disability discrimination case based solely on obesity.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Whittaker sued America’s Car-Mart Inc. on grounds that the company had “terminated his employment because of his disability and, in retaliation for the charge of discrimination, threatened to terminate business with other entities if those entities employ plaintiff.” Essentially, America’s Car-Mart did not want fat employees.
When an employee is qualified to do a job but has a disability, the ADA prohibits the employer discriminating against that employee because he or she is disabled. Under the original ADA, an employee has a disability if that employee has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, walking, independently performing manual tasks, independently taking care of yourself, learning and/or working. But, the definition of “disability” was greatly expanded with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAA”). The ADAA made significant changes to the “disability” definition by overturning the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of ADA regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Thereafter, almost all Employment Discrimination Lawyers have opined that it is now significantly easier for employees to be protected as disabled under the ADA provision. Specifically, the ADA as amended by the ADAA now covers employees that have a history of a disability, or even if an employer perceives and/or treats an employee as having a disability, even if that employee is not really disabled.
More recently, in June of 2013, the AMA decided to change its guidelines to categorize obesity as a disease.
Whittaker is the first lawsuit that we have seen since the AMA’s new policy to address a disability claim for obesity. In that case, the employers’ attorneys argued that case should be dismissed because the EEOC’s ADA regulations provide that “except in rare circumstances, obesity is not considered a disabling impairment.” But, in denying the motion to dismiss, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr. held that the employer was relying on law and legal authority from before the ADAA was passed and that EEOC’s disability language was “omitted following the ADAAA.” Judge Limbaugh further held that “plaintiff has sufficiently pled a claim that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA.”
This does not mean that Whittaker wins, but it does mean that he gets to present his case to a jury. In addition to proving that he has a disability, Whittaker will also have to show that he is qualified to perform the essential functions of his job. How does an employee do that? Essentially, it is a two step process. First, the employee has to meet the job’s baseline requirements, which involves level of education, particular skills, applicable licenses, and/or minimum experience requirements. The second step requires the employee to show that he or she can perform the essential job functions either with or without reasonable accommodation.
There is no place for disability discrimination on the job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disables employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio law.
The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “how do I get a work accommodation for my disability?”, “am I disabled under the ADA?”, “what should I do if…” or “can my boss fired me for …”, it would be best for you to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, attorney, Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.