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Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Lawyer Answer: Is obesity considered a disability under federal and Ohio law? Can my boss create a hostile work environment by making inappropriate comments about my weight? What should I do if my manager fired me today because he said I’m too fat?

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The dedicated employment attorneys at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm have extensive experience handling disability discrimination cases and frequently blog about changes in disability discrimination laws. (See Is Alcoholism A Disability Under The ADA? – Call The Right Attorney; Is It Wrongful Termination To Fire Disabled Workers?; and Can My Boss Fire Me Because He Thinks I’m Disabled?).

One common question about disability discrimination is whether obesity is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and Ohio Revised Code 4112, which incorporates many of the anti-discrimination provisions found in the ADA into Ohio state law. Our employment discrimination lawyers have discussed this issue before. (Job Discrimination Attorney: Can I Be Fired For Being Obese?; My Boss Harasses Me Because I’m Disabled. What Should I Do?; and Is High Blood Pressure A Disability? – Call The Right Attorney).

The answer, unfortunately, is not so simple and keeps changing. Various courts across the country are split as to whether obesity should be considered a disability.

Take Chavez v. Adams County School District – a recent case out of the United States District Court, District of Colorado – for example. In Chavez, the Plaintiff was an approximately three-hundred pound woman who alleged, among other things, a hostile work environment against her former employer for allowing coworkers to make comments to her about her weight. These comments were numerous:

During the 2011–2012 school year, Ms. Chavez claims that Ms. Wright (1) told her she did not have to sit on the floor because it would be too hard for her to get up; (2) told her she didn’t eat much and must have a slow metabolism; (3) said “for being so big you sure are fast;” and (4) asked if she would be able to do all the walking associated with working in a middle school when Ms. Chavez expressed an interest in a middle school job. … Further, during the 2012–2013 school year, Ms. Landeo (1) asked Ms. Chavez if she could get on top of her husband during sex; (2) asked how Ms. Chavez and her husband have sex; and (3) commented “before you got fat I bet you had a really nice booty.”

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Given the number of comments clearly made about Ms. Chavez’s weight, the Court allowed her claim of hostile work environment to go forward.

Ms. Chavez also brought a retaliation claim against her former employer on the basis that, after she filed a charge of disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC“), her employer started to discipline her heavily. The Court allowed her claim of retaliation to go to the jury, as well. (See File With The EEOC Or Get A Lawyer? – Call The Right Attorney; Should I Get A Lawyer To Help Me File An EEOC Charge?; and Will The EEOC Stop Discrimination Against Me? Unlikely!).

While Ms. Chavez’s claims of disability discrimination based on obesity survived, Ohio law is not so friendly to plaintiffs bringing weight-based disability discrimination claims. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals – the federal court district which covers Ohio – has held that obesity is not a disability covered under the ADA.

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc., the Sixth Circuit found that obesity, by itself, does not constitute a disability:

[M]orbid obesity may be an ADA impairment “where it has a physiological cause,” but held that non-physiological morbid obesity is not an “impairment” under the ADA. District Court Opinion, R. 80. For the following reasons, we agree.

An “impairment,” for purposes of the ADA, is any “physiological disorder, or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of [various] body systems.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(1). A “physical impairment” is:

(A) any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine.

45 C.F.R. § 84.3(h)(emphasis added); Andrews v. State of Ohio, 104 F.3d 803, 808 (6th Cir.1997). As explained by the Supreme Court in Sutton, if a physical characteristic is not an ADA impairment, an employer is permitted to prefer one physical characteristic over another:

The ADA allows employers to prefer some physical attributes over others, so long as those attributes do not rise to the level of substantially limiting impairments. An employer is free to decide that physical characteristics or medical conditions that are not impairments are preferable to others, just as it is free to decide that some limiting, but not substantially limiting, impairments make individuals less than ideally suited for a job.

Sutton, 527 U.S. at 473, 119 S.Ct. 2139.

The EEOC acknowledges that “merely being overweight, in and of itself, is generally not considered an ADA impairment . . .”

Thus, consistent with the EEOC’s own definition, we hold that to constitute an ADA impairment, a person’s obesity, even morbid obesity, must be the result of a physiological condition.

It appears that in order to proceed with an obesity-based disability discrimination claim in Ohio, the obesity must be attributed to some specific physiological condition. Merely being overweight may not be enough to bring a successful disability claim in the state. However, the state of this law remains in flux.

Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your 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. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys 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 disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.


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