Is Obesity a Protected Form of Disability?

Our Los Angeles Labor Lawyer Discusses

It is well known that federal law prohibits disability discrimination in the workplace. Qualified individuals cannot be fired or barred from hiring on the basis of a disability. However, the term “disability,” as it is interpreted, can often vary from company to company. In the past few years, there has been a notable increase in the amount of lawsuits that claim discrimination on the basis of obesity.

Is Obesity a Protected Form of Disability?

The Chicago Tribune recently reported on the case of a worker discharged from her position at a Louisiana drug addiction treatment clinic. The individual weighed 527 pounds at the time of termination. After her termination, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that weight effectively disabled her.

In past years, the court system has typically rejected claims of obesity as a disability. In the case from Louisiana, however, the judge sided with the EEOC, ruling that the person’s severe obesity constituted a disability. The clinic ultimately settled the case with a payout of $125,000.

At the time of the termination, the clinic stated that the person was fired over concerns that she would be unable to perform CPR on patients in emergencies due to her size. The firing came after nine years of what was assumed to be adequate job performance.

Morbid obesity is defined as a person being at least 100 pounds over a healthy weight for his or her gender, height and age. The Tribute article notes that morbid obesity is “increasingly recognized as a disease,” and often “can be both a cause and a consequence of disability.” Morbid obesity, in particular, is a long-lasting condition, and treatment options are typically limited to surgery.

Even if they do not suffer blatant discrimination, workers suffering from obesity may find themselves the subject of ongoing harassment from supervisors or coworkers.

Nearly 36 percent of adults in the United States are considered obese, and this rate is expected to rise. Although the Louisiana case marks an important turning point, it may be some time before courts consistently hold the condition to be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Did You Suffer from Discrimination?

No Los Angeles worker should have to continue suffering in a discriminatory work environment. Regardless of what caused your disability, you have rights under the law.

For a consultation about your case, contact a Los Angeles employment attorney at Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob today. We help victims of unfair treatment seek justice and compensation for the injustices they have suffered.