According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), obesity is a disabiling impairment under the Americans with Disaabilities Act. On September 27, 2011, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against BAE Systems, Inc. (BAE), alleging that BAE engaged in disability discrimination against a former employee who was morbidly obese. The EEOC alleges that BAE unlawfully failed to accommodate the employee’s morbid obesity and wrongfully discharged the employee based upon his obesity. For more information on the EEOC’s lawsuit, click here.
While no decision has been issued in BAE Systems, Inc., the EEOC’s position may find support in the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, the ADAAA significantly expands the definition of “substantially limits” and “major life activites,” thereby increasing the likelihood that morbid obesity or even obesity constitutes a disability under the ADAAA. In addition, under the “regarded as” prong of the ADAAA, an employee must only show that the employer took an action because of its belief regarding the employee’s impairment. The employee does not have to show an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
Because of the undertainty of the law, employers should act with extra caution when making employment decisions that are based on an employee’s obesity or decisions that detrimentally affect obese employees. For additional information on how your company can better protect itself from ADA claims, please contact Rachel D. Felton at (412) 918-1173 or email@example.com.