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Another Circuit Court of Appeals Weighs in on Obesity and the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals (such as applicants and employees) on the basis of a disability.  To prevail on an ADA claim, one must first show that he/she is disabled with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.  The individual must also demonstrate he/she is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation and that adverse action was caused by his disability.


On June 12, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided the case of Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority, No. 17-3508.  In doing so, the Court joined the Second, Sixth and Eighth Circuits in deciding that obesity, when not related to an underlying medical condition, is not protected as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The case involved a bus driver who, over the course of six years, went from 350 pounds to 566 pounds.  His employer ultimately terminated his employment when he was “medically unfit to perform the essential functions of [his] job classification.” Specifically, the employee kept his foot on the gas and brake pedals at the same time; was unable to make hand-over-hand turns; positioned his leg too close to the door handle; was unable to see the floor from his seat; needed to lean on the bus for balance, exceeded the maximum weight capacity of the seat, and had heavy sweating and personal hygiene issues.


Prior to termination, his employer attempted to work with the employee and his doctors to get his weight under control so he could return to work, in exchange for a release of all claims.  Richardson refused. Nevertheless, his employer gave him an additional two years of employment to bring his weight under control. When his employer offered him a one-year extension to provide medical documentation as a last chance to remain on inactive status for an additional year, the employee declined.  Six months later, he was terminated.


The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that claimants who bring ADA claims must show that their extreme obesity is caused by an underlying physiological disorder or condition and the plaintiff offered no such evidence.

If you are an employee or applicant with concerns about workplace discrimination and/or retaliation involving yourself or others, please contact our office for a consult.  We are here to help.