A physical disorder is not always a disability under ADA guidelines.

by on January 7, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Can obese employees win an ADA lawsuit if you fire them because they’re too heavy to do their job?

Not in most cases, as it emerged from a recent ADA lawsuit in Ohio.

Unable to work safely

The employee here, a driver and dock worker, weighed 400 pounds. He was climbing a ladder when a rung broke under him, and he hurt his knee.

A doctor found he had a limited range of motion, became short of breath after taking a few steps, and couldn’t do his job safely. The employee was placed on what the employer called “safety hold” status, and was fired when he couldn’t return to work within six months.

The EEOC sued on the employee’s behalf, claiming disability discrimination against the employer due to his obesity. But the court threw the case out, saying obesity was an ADA disability only if caused by a physical disorder or condition, like a hormonal imbalance. The employee didn’t prove he had such a disorder under ADA guidelines.

Considering consequences and ADA Compliance

Obesity is a ballooning problem in the population. While you don’t want to discriminate against people just because of their appearance, you’re entitled under ADA regulations to consider the safety and operational consequences of an employee’s weight when making personnel decisions.

Cite: EEOC v. Watkins Motor Lines, No. 05-3218, 6th Cir, 9/12/06.

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