Employer Settles ADA Claim Filed on Behalf of Obese Woman
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),
the owner and operator of a long-term residential treatment facility for
chemically dependent women and their children has agreed to pay $125,000
to the estate of an employee allegedly terminated from her position because
she was severely obese. EEOC v. Res. for Human Dev., Inc., No. 10-03322 (E.D. La., consent decree entered April 10, 2012). Additional information about the court decision denying the employer’s motions for summary
judgment and recognizing obesity as a disability under the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) appears in Issue 421 of this Update.
EEOC also indicated that under the consent decree, the employer will “provide annual training on federal disability law to all human resources personnel and corporate directors of RHD [Resources for Human Development] nationwide.” The agreement further requires the company to report to EEOC “for three years on all complaints of disability discrimination and all denials of a request for reasonable accommodation of a disability.” RHD has agreed as well to name a children’s room in its Terrytown, Louisiana, facility, where the now deceased employee worked, and to permanently install a memorial plaque in her honor.
EEOC Houston District Office Regional Attorney Jim Sacher said, “This case
highlights the fact that severely obese people who can do their jobs are every
bit as protected by the ADA as people with any other qualifying disability. Any
notion that these individuals are not protected, based on the wrongheaded
idea that their condition is self-inflicted, is simply wrong and without legal
basis.” While some legal scholars contend that the obese are protected under
the ADA only if their condition was caused by a diagnosed medical disorder,
the court rejected that argument, stating that because severe obesity qualifies
as a disability under the ADA, “there is no requirement to prove an underlying
physiological basis.” See EEOC Press Release, April 10, 2012.