Obesity remains a controversial issue under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers received some relief from the issue in a recent court ruling that obesity unaccompanied by an underlying physiological condition is not a disability protected by federal law. Richardson v. CTA, No. 17-3508 (C.A. 4, 6/12/19); see also Aumara v. Monsanto, 2019 BL218595 (E.D. La., 6/13/19) (even if morbid obesity is an impairment, plaintiff cannot show his weight substantially limits major life activity). In this case, plaintiff was a severely obese bus driver with the Chicago Transit Authority. The Authority contended that the plaintiff's weight exceeded the limit of the driver's seats and made it difficult for him to operate the bus pedals properly. The court found that the employer thus had non-discriminatory reasons for the termination. More importantly, the court joined three other federal appeals courts in finding that obesity unaccompanied by an underlying physiological condition simply isn't protected. The court saw weight as a physical characteristic just like eye and hair color, not a disability.
Editor's Note: While the Second, Sixth and Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has reached results similar to that of the Seventh Circuit in the Richardson case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the First Circuit have issued rulings indicating that obesity alone could be protected from discrimination.
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