Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Obesity Under the ADA - EEOC Files Suit

The EEOC recently filed an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit in the Eastern District of Louisiana. The EEOC claims that Lisa Harrison was fired for her obesity. The employer allegedly, "perceived Harrison as being substantially limited in a number of major life activities, including walking."

An important aspect of the ADA is that it covers more than just actual disabilities; it also covers employees with a record of having a disability, and employees regarded as having a disability by their employers.

George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) in 2008 (effective 1/1/2009). The ADAAA greatly expanded the ADA's coverage under the "regarded as" theory. Almost any perceived impairment can constitute a disability if an employer takes an action prohibited by the ADA because the employer perceives the employee as impaired. This does not include impairments that are both transitory (duration of six months or less) and minor.

Lawffice Space readers may recall a recent lawsuit by a Hooters employee based on weight discrimination (Case of the Week #5). That case differed from this EEOC suit because the Hooters lawsuit was brought in Michigan which has its own weight discrimination statute. I warned readers that "I think a good lawyer could also cobble together an ADA... claim." Well, the EEOC appears to have done just that.

On a sad note, Ms. Harrison passed away before the EEOC filed suit.

Image from Wikimedia Commons under Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 
Author: AgnosticPreachersKid (own work).
Date: September 11, 2008

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.