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Employment Blog

Obesity as a Disability Under the ADA

Authored by Kevin J.T. Terry
Posted on July 8, 2014
Filed under Employment

Recent court actions continue to support a claim that obesity is a covered disability. America's Car-Mart (Car-Mart) reached a mutual agreement to settle a claim brought by a former employee alleging that Car-Mart discharged him from his General Manager position because of his severe obesity and because his employer regarded him as being substantially limited in the major life activity of walking.

In April, Car-Mart brought a motion to dismiss the disability discrimination claim on the grounds that severe obesity is not a "disability" under the ADA in the absence of an underlying physiological disorder. Judge Limbaugh, in the Eastern District of Missouri, rejected this argument relying on the EEOC's passage of the ADAAA and its position that severe obesity is a disability under the ADA.

While this settlement is not a clear interpretation on how obesity will be treated by the courts, the decision by Judge Limbaugh to allow these types of claims to continue is not unique in the post ADAAA case law that we have seen. What is still unknown is how courts will treat varying degrees of obesity and just when obesity crosses the line into a protected condition under the ADA.

For employers, the take away is that a conservative approach with employees is to treat all forms of obesity as a disabling condition under the ADA. That means employers should engage in the interactive process with employees to determine if reasonable accommodations exist to assist issues in job performance based on an employee's obesity.