According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of the American population meets the technical definition of obese. With statistics like that, it is perhaps no surprise that employers have been increasingly scrutinized for targeting, mistreating, or refusing to hire overweight employees.
Although there is no explicit federal law that identifies obese individuals as a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), at least one state and a handful of cities across the country have passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against employment candidates based on weight.
Furthermore, an amendment to the ADA extends protection to individuals whose obesity is the result of a physical or medical condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If an individual’s weight is considered a disability under the ADA, he or she may already be protected.
Recent Case Law Regarding Obesity Discrimination
Despite the unsettled nature of the law, some courts have extended protection to workers who have experienced weight-related discrimination in the workplace.
In BNSF Railway v. Feit, the Montana Supreme Court held that a train conductor’s obesity was a disability under the ADA that placed him in a protected status. The railroad had initially offered him employment but withdrew it on the condition that he lose 10 percent of his body weight or cover the cost of yearly physicals.
In Whittaker v. America’s Car-Mart, Inc., a federal judge in the Eastern District of Missouri ruled that an employer improperly fired a man due to his obesity. The court further held that the employer incorrectly relied on outdated ADA and EEOC guidelines that predate current guidelines recognizing obesity as a disability.
What Businesses Need to Know
According to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, overweight workers are 12 times more likely to endure discrimination in the workplace than employees with a normal body composition. This number goes up to 37 times for obese employees and up to 100 times for the severely obese. Workers have filed lawsuits claiming they have been subject to discrimination by coworkers, managers, or employers.
If you own a business with employees, it is important to work closely with a business law firm well-versed in the evolving landscape of employment law. The stakes are too high to take chances when it comes to protecting your business.
Mississippi Business Lawyers
The rules and regulations that govern small businesses are constantly changing. Protect what you have built by working with one of our business lawyers.
At Rushing & Guice, P.L.L.C., we help individuals and businesses with a broad range of legal matters. Call us today at (228) 374-2313 to discuss you case.
This website has been prepared by Rushing & Guice, P.L.L.C. for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.