It’s no secret that the country as a whole is getting heavier. While many people are not affected by carrying a few extra pounds, very heavy individuals often have a difficult time in the employment arena. Obese people face discrimination when seeking employment, and may need extra accommodations at work based on their size. When a person’s weight affects his or her career, can that person file a lawsuit?
Currently, there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination based on a person’s weight. Michigan is the only state in the country to explicitly prohibit weight-based discrimination, and some cities, like Santa Cruz and San Francisco in California have enacted their own ordinances banning the practice.
In California, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that discrimination against job applicants on the basis of weight is only prohibited if that applicant can prove that his or her weight qualifies as a disability under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The Court held that for a person’s weight to qualify as a protected disability, that person must prove that his or her obesity stems from a physiological or medical condition that affects one or more of that person’s basic bodily systems, and that the obesity limits a major life activity. If a person can prove both of these things, then he or she may have a claim for discrimination against a potential employer.
These requirements are relatively similar for people who are already employed. While people in California have not had much success suing an employer for obesity-related discrimination in state court, the federal government has different standards.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that enforces the laws against workplace discrimination. When considering whether obesity is a disability, the EEOC considers whether a person’s ability to perform major life skills is affected as well as the duration and long-term effects of the condition. There is no requirement that a person’s weight be caused by a documented medical condition. As a result of these more lenient requirements, the EEOC has occasionally sued employers for terminating employees based on their size.
In general, it is difficult for obese employees to file a lawsuit against their employer based on size discrimination, especially in state court. However, if a person can prove that his or her weight qualifies as a disability and is the result of a medical condition, that person may be able to prevail in a discrimination lawsuit. To speak with an experienced discrimination law lawyer in Fresno, contact us today.
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