Company Refused to Hire Overweight Man; Was it Legal?
When obesity is and isn’t covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act
Many people are aware that a company cannot refuse to hire you simply because
of a disability. But what if that so-called disability is obesity?
Is being overweight covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
If so, does it matter how the person came to be overweight? That is, are
people who are obese because of medical conditions treated the same way
under the law as people who are obese because of lifestyle factors?
Let’s take a look at a recent case that examined how obesity is
viewed under the ADA.
No underlying cause
Melvin Morriss III thought he was on track to land a machinist position
with BNSF Railway. He had a conditional offer of employment, but had to
pass a medical exam before he would be eligible for a formal offer.
On the medical questionnaire, Morriss disclosed that he was pre-diabetic.
Then, at two separate physicals, Morriss was found to have a Body Mass
Index (BMI) of 40.9 and 40.4.
Not long after that, Morriss got bad news: He wouldn’t be getting
a formal employment offer. He was told that the company didn’t hire
anyone for safety-sensitive positions if their BMI was 40 or over.
Morriss sued under the ADA. He claimed the company unlawfully discriminated
against him under the ADA for his disability of obesity.
The company argued that Morriss was not qualified for protection under
the ADA. It alleged that because his obesity was not caused by a medical
condition and did not cause any impairments, it couldn’t be considered
Morriss lost his case. The court agreed with the company that Morriss was
He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, this past fall the court
decided to take a pass on the case. The ruling from the prior court stood.
What the ADA covers
While Morriss’s obesity was not considered a disability, that doesn’t
mean that’s true for everyone.
That’s because the ADA does not include a list of conditions that
are or are not considered disabilities. Rather, the law directs that each
person’s situation is considered on a case-by-case basis.
While being overweight may not affect some people’s lives, it may
have a profound impact on others’. Consider the three questions
that are use when determining ADA coverage:
- Is the person qualified to do the job in question? That is, does he or
she have the appropriate education, experience, and professional licenses
to perform the tasks that are required in a given position?
- Does the person suffer from a physical or mental impairment that substantially
limits a life activity, such as seeing, hearing, walking, speaking, breathing,
performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning, or working?
- Can the person perform the essential functions of the job, with or without
accommodation? This question generally pertains to the main functions
of the job – those things that comprise the core of a person’s
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then a person may qualify
for ADA coverage.
Call us to find out about your rights
If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against because of
a disability, it’s wise to speak to an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.