Monday, June 18, 2007

Supersized lawsuits: obesity-related claims expected to rise


According to this article in last week's USA Today, employers can expect discrimination claims based on obesity to rise. The article cites 400-pound Stephen Grindle, an Ohio truck driver fired because of his weight, and 325-pound Michael Frank, a New York teacher denied tenure after his boss described him as "so big and sloppy," as examples of an emerging trend by the obese to try to claim protection under the ADA as "disabled." According to the EEOC, those that are morbidly obese (more than 100 pounds overweight) should be entitled to protection under the ADA as disabled. By comparison, more than 32% of the adult population is categorized as "obese" (more than 30 pounds overweight). Few of these claims have been brought under the ADA, and they rarely if ever succeed. Because of this increased awareness and publicity, coupled with the expanding American waste band, this type of claim should be on employers' radar screens. Moreover, because obesity can be caused by a medical condition (such as a thyroid problem) or cause a medical conditions (such as diabetes), employers must be careful not to discriminate against the underlying medical issue or fail to reasonably accommodate it if necessary.

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