Yes, you can deny someone a position because they’re obese – if you can show that a grossly overweight person won’t be able to perform the job’s essential functions.

A reminder of that point comes from a recent court case in Wyoming:

A boiler room tech at a V.A. hospital, who weighed 338 pounds, failed a physical and was demoted to a lower-paying job in housekeeping. One problem: He had to climb ladders that would support only 300 pounds. So he asked the employer to buy new ladders that would hold him.

But the employer said that wasn’t the main issue: His poor conditioning made him unable to react quickly in an emergency where a boiler might have to be shut off to prevent an explosion.

The man sued for disability discrimination. But the employer won.

The court noted that there wasn’t an equal-paying job that the employee could have been placed in. And even heavier-duty ladders wouldn’t have fixed his underlying fitness problem. Plus, the hospital had removed at least one other boiler-room hand who failed a physical.

Cite: Wilkerson v. Shinseki, No. 09-8027, 10th Cir., 6/2/10.

photo credit: mahalie


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