Obesity and the American Disabilities Act

Obesity and the American Disabilities Act

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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) bans discrimination based on disability. It provides individuals with disabilities civil rights protections like those provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion (Mathias, 2003). The ADA defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities and will not consider obese individuals as disabled unless the weight limits a major life activity. Federal courts have ruled that morbid obesity falls under the category of medical conditions which limit one or more life activities (Garcia, n.d).
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 established basic federal laws on employment discrimination. It does not identify weight as a protected characteristic, and as a result, does not provide protection for obese individuals who have been discriminated against by potential or current employers.
Obesity is now being called an epidemic affecting millions of individuals in the United States. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken the position that morbid obesity, even if voluntary, can be a protected disability under the ADA. Obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension are considered disabilities based on the ADA. The article on obesity in the workplace tells the story of Joseph O’Connor. Mr. O’Connor sued McDonald’s for discriminating against him in violation of the ADA. He alleged that McDonald’s refused to hire him as a cook because of his obesity. Mr. O’Connor claimed his obesity was a disability and McDonald’s discriminated against him because of this disability. McDonald’s sought to dismiss the case, stating Mr. O’Connor was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA. The federal court, however, refused to dismiss the lawsuit. The court held that O’Connor must be given the chance to prove that he is protected under the law (Garcia, n.d.).
The challenge in dealing with the controversy, of discrimination and disability, surrounding obesity must involve the legal and medical communities.

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Both must encourage the appropriate federal agencies to develop mechanisms for the evaluation, diagnosis, and overall protection of those individuals who are obese, to prevent future discrimination lawsuits against employers.

Garcia, Lily. (n.d.). Obesity and Morbid Obesity in the Workplace: ADA Trends and Best Practices. Retrieved June 22, 2004 from http://www.wpexperts.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=
Mathias, R.L., & Jackson, J.H. (2003). Human Resource Management (Tenth ed.) United States: South-Western.
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