NFIB: Small Business Breathing Easier after Obesity Ruling

Date: April 05, 2016 Last Edit: April 07, 2016

Contact: Kelly Klass (609)713-4243 or 

Federal court determines that obesity isn’t a
disability under the ADA

D.C. (April 5, 2016)
– Employers have a right to consider obesity
as a safety risk and workers who don’t
meet weight-related health standards are not legally disabled, under a federal
court ruling today cheered by the
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

“Obesity may be a major public health problem, but it’s not
necessarily a disability,” said Karen
Harned, Executive Director of the
Small Business Legal Center
.  “More
than a third of the U.S. population is obese, according to the CDC.  Categorizing obesity as a disability would
send trial lawyers into a feeding frenzy.”

The 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals this
morning clarified the definition under which an employer can be sued for discrimination because of a disability. 
In the case of Melvin Morriss, III
v BNSF Railroad Co.,
the plaintiff was denied a job as a machinist because of
his high Body Mass Index (BMI), a measurement of obesity. 

Under its policy, BNSF “will not hire a new applicant for a
safety-sensitive position if his Body Mass Index (BMI) equaled or exceeded 40.”  Morriss sued the
company on the grounds that his rights were violated under American with Disabilities
Act (ADA). 

“The Court today ruled correctly that obesity
itself is not a sufficient argument,” said Harned.  “Plaintiffs must prove that their obesity caused
some sort of physical or mental
impairment that severely affected major life functions.

“The railroad company had a clear policy against hiring an
unhealthy individual for safety-sensitive positions,” she continued.  “If the court would have ruled in favor of the plaintiff and expanded the
scope of the ADA, small business owners could have been held liable for
policies that are set in place for
everyone’s safety.”


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