Court Allows Obesity-Related Claims to Proceed
A federal court in Missouri has determined that a man who alleges employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the basis of his severe obesity has sufficiently stated his claims and may proceed with his action. Whittaker v. America’s Car-Mart, Inc., No. 13-0108 (D. Mo., order entered April 24, 2014). The plaintiff allegedly began working for the defendant in August 2005 and was discharged from his general manager position in November 2012, purportedly because of his disability. He claims that the defendant regarded him as having a physical impairment under the ADA and “as being substantially limited in a major life activity, walking, as a result of his obesity.”
To support its argument that the alleged disability “is not an actual disability under the ADA unless it is related to an underlying physiological disorder or condition and that plaintiff fails to allege that his obesity is related to an underlying physiological disorder or condition,” the defendant cited case law predating congressional ADA amendments intended to reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s “unduly restrictive approach” to the law’s disability definition. The defendant further relied on EEOC interpretive guidance that has been revised since the law was amended to omit the statement “except in rare circumstances, obesity is not considered a disabling impairment.” Given Congress’s mandate that the ADA’s disability definition be construed “in favor of broad coverage of individuals . . . to the maximum extent permitted” by the law, the court found that the plaintiff’s claims survived a motion to dismiss.