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Absent health problems, obesity isn’t ADA disability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Merely being obese is not a disability under the ADA, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Recent case: Melvin was offered a machinist position with BNSF Railway contingent on passing a physical exam. At the time, Melvin, who is 5’10”, weighed about 284 pounds, giving him a body mass index of slightly over 40. The company considered that too high and revoked the offer.

Melvin sued, alleging that he had been denied the job because he was disabled or because BNSF regarded him as disabled, either of which is illegal under the ADA.

The court first analyzed whether obesity is a disability if the individual is otherwise healthy and doesn’t have underlying medical problems that either cause obesity or are caused by it. Melvin’s medical records revealed no blood pressure issues, heart disease, diabetes or other problems or physical restrictions of any kind. Therefore, the court concluded he was not disabled despite being obese.

Then the court ruled that BNSF had not regarded Melvin as disabled. BNSF declined to hire Melvin because it believed his BMI would lead to disease and impairment later, but it emphatically denied believing he was currently impaired. The court agreed and dismissed the case. (Morriss v. BNSF Railway, No. 14-3858, 8th Cir., 2016)

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