WHEN IS SEVERE OBESITY A PROTECTED DISABILITY?

A federal district court recently backed up EEOC’s position that severe obesity is considered a disability protected by law.  That leaves us with the question of what is a severe disability.

EEOC long ago stated that it will consider someone severely obese if the employee’s body weight is more than 100% over the norm.  In this particular case, the employer argued that severe obesity is only a protected disability if it is caused by some underlying psychological or even physiological condition.  That is a common employer rebuttal and one which some courts have accepted. This court disagreed with the employer’s defense stating that when claiming severe obesity “. . .there is no requirement to prove an underlying physiological basis.” It went one to note that a physiological cause is only required when a charging party’s weight is within the normal range. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h).

The court also stepped up to the question of whether an impairing physical condition is protected if it is due to the voluntary habits of the employee.  It dismissed that idea with the following words:

Further, neither the EEOC nor the Fifth Circuit have ever required a disabled party to prove the underlying basis of their impairment. The EEOC Compliance Manual specifically provides that “[t]he cause of a condition has no effect on whether that condition is an impairment.” 4 Voluntariness is also irrelevant when determining if a condition is or is not an impairment. 5 Plaintiff notes that “[t]o require establishment of the underlying cause of the impairment in a morbid obesity [case], but not in any other disability cases, would epitomize the very prejudices and stereotypes which the ADA was passed to address.

It is a well-written and reasoned decision which FEDSMILL.com recommends for any employee or union steward representing an employee with any level of obesity.  It is titled as EEOC. v. Res. for Human Development, E.D.La., Civ. Act. No. 10-3322 (2011)

EEOC settled the case just before a jury trial by obtaining $125,000 in back pay for the employee’s estate, Sadly, this case like so many others took five years from the time when she was fired. By that time the employee had passed away.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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