Denying an employer’s motions for summary judgment in an employment discrimination suit, a federal court in Louisiana has determined that severe obesity, regardless of its basis, qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. EEOC v. Res. for Human Dev., Inc., No. 10-03322 (E.D. La., decided December 7, 2011). The court did not decide whether the employer had terminated the obese employee’s employment because she was regarded as disabled, finding that the matter presented a genuine issue of fact to be decided by a jury.

The employee, now deceased, weighed more than 400 pounds when she was hired by the defendant, which owned and operated a long-term residential treatment facility for chemically dependent women and their children. Some eight years later, the employee was terminated from her position; at the time, she weighed 527 pounds. She filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that she was terminated because her employer regarded her as disabled due to her obesity. She died in 2009, and EEOC filed suit on behalf of her estate in September 2010, alleging that she “had severe obesity, which is a physical impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’) and that Defendant regarded her as disabled because of it.”

The court provided an overview of case law from various federal circuits and
EEOC regulations on whether obesity is an ADA impairment and concluded
that “severe obesity qualifies as a disability under the ADA and that there is
no requirement to prove an underlying physiological basis.” The court also
held that EEOC would not be “judicially stopped” from bringing an ADA
claim despite potentially inconsistent statements the employee made when
applying for Social Security Disability Insurance.

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.