Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Missouri Court Rules Obesity Could Be a Disability under the ADA

The 2009 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) left no doubt that Congress intended to expand the ADA's scope, but is this pendulum swinging too far? 

In a recent decision, a Missouri court refused to grant an employer's motion to dismiss a plaintiff's disability discrimination claim where the alleged disability is obesity.  See Whittaker v. America's Car-Mart, Inc., Case No. 1:13CV108SNLJ, in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern District.

In that case, the plaintiff contends he was discharged based on his severe obesity.  The employer moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that obesity is not a disability unless it is related to an underlying physical or psychological disorder or condition.  Denying the motion to strike, the court noted that with the 2009 amendments, Congress mandated that the definition of "disability" be construed in favor of "broad coverage." 

Although the court tempered its ruling by noting that the plaintiff still had to prove that his weight rises to the level of a disability, the decision clearly signals that currently, there is no girdle holding the ADA's expanding girth in place.