Around one-third of the American population is considered obese. In fact, adult obesity rates exceed 35 percent in four states and 30 percent in 25 states. All 50 of the United States have obesity rates above 20 percent. With this level of obesity present, it’s only expected that discrimination and other problems would make their way to the workplace. But is there legal recourse for weight discrimination? If your obesity falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there just might be a legal solution to your circumstances.
Legal Basis for a Weight Discrimination Lawsuit
In June 2013, the American Medical Association officially declared obesity to be a disease. Currently, there are no federal laws that would protect employees from weight discrimination and the only state laws that provide this protection are in Michigan. Certain other local governments also afford protection from weight discrimination to employees.
However, hope is not lost for those who believe they have been wrongfully and illegally treated based on their weight. In some cases, protection from weight discrimination may be found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For this act to apply, the employee must demonstrate that he or she has a disability as defined within the ADA – that an impairment is present, and that the impairment substantially limited a major bodily function or life activity.
Certain courts have found that obesity may qualify as a disability in the following circumstances:
- If an employee or applicant has diabetes or a similar underlying impairment that has led to obesity
- If severe obesity can be shown to have substantially limited a major bodily function or major life activity
- If an employer falsely assumes that an employee has a disability based on the employee’s obesity
How Do You Prove Weight Discrimination?
If your obesity may qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you have to establish several other things in order to pursue legal action.
1.Your employer must be covered by the ADA.
The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees.
2.You must have direct evidence of discrimination.
If someone in authority over you comments about your weight or nicknames you “Fatty”, then later fires you or denies you a promotion, these comments could be evidence of discrimination.
3.You must be subjected to different treatment than your coworkers.
If you are treated differently than non-obese coworkers, such as being denied promotions even when you’re the most qualified, being excluded from business lunches, and more, then you could show these actions as proof of discrimination.
4.You may also be the subject of harassment.
If you are mocked or excluded by coworkers or supervisors, this could be illegal harassment. Harassment must be reported to HR under their policy so that they are given an opportunity to correct the situation. Otherwise, you may lose your right to sue for harassment later in time.
5.Your employer must grant you reasonable accommodations.
If you are overweight and require a wider desk, sturdier chair, light duty, or a walking cane, your employer is required to grant you reasonable accommodation that enables you to perform the essential duties of your job, unless it would be an undue hardship on them.
You only have a window of time to pursue action for discrimination in California. At Alan Burton Newman, PLC, our team of legal professionals is guided by a seasoned Harvard graduate! To learn more about your rights and legal options, contact our Los Angeles employment law attorney today. The firm offers free case evaluations and can provide seasoned legal guidance that is backed by decades of experience.