It’s Official – Obesity Is a Disease

Kegler Brown E-mployment Alert

The Disability Law protections continue to expand. In May 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a guidance that “clarified” the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of a disability to cover cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and intellectual disabilities. In the same guidance, the EEOC deleted a statement to the effect that the condition of obesity is not a disability.

Adding reinforcement to the change in the EEOC guidance, the American Medical Association (AMA) has officially recognized obesity as a disease. (It is estimated that obesity exists in epidemic proportions, affecting one in three Americans. Obesity among children has at least doubled in the past 30 years). The effect of the AMA’s recognition of obesity as a disease is that it will probably be easier for obese individuals to file and maintain a disability claim based on their obesity, or the claim that they were “regarded as disabled” because of their size or weight.

The lesson? Employers likely will receive requests for accommodations, such as providing larger chairs or work stations, time off for medical attention, and/or adjusted requirements for time limitations.

The first local lawsuit alleging an obesity disability that we are aware of was filed on October 17, 2013, in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. The suit alleges that the plaintiff suffers from obesity and that the employer refused to provide her with a uniform like those worn by other employees, the plaintiff was required to ride in her own car because the owner did not like “fat women,” that she was called a “heifer,” and was forced to resign because of harassment. [Bowermeister v. Swan Super Cleaners, No. 13-CV-011525.]