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I Was Fired for Being Overweight: Do I Have a Case?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Being fired from a job can be rather upsetting. When a termination is based upon a person's weight or size, it could very well be discriminatory.

Weight discrimination, under federal law, will sometimes fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are a handful of state laws that also provide other civil rights protections. Additionally, weight discrimination can actually be evidence of other forms of discrimination, such as gender discrimination, which is protected in every state and federally.

Overweight, Not Understood

Unfortunately, even though civil rights have come a long way over the last 50 years, society is still not very accepting of the overweight and obese. Frequently, this is due to the misperception that obese individuals caused their own condition, or are "too lazy" to do anything about it. These are stereotypes that harm overweight individuals.

At this stage, only the State of Michigan has a specific law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of weight. However, state disability discrimination laws, and other civil rights laws, such as the Unruh Act in California, may also be able to provide legal protections, but generally incorporate the ADA's exacting standard.

Obesity as a Disability

For a person to have a claim under the ADA, or state disability discrimination laws, they must generally qualify as disabled. To do so, an obese person's weight must be tied to a physiological medical condition. Additionally, their weight must limit a major life activity, such as only being able to walk short distances unassisted. This results in many overweight and obese individuals being unprotected by the ADA and state civil rights laws.

When an employee can prove their obesity qualifies as a disability, an employer may not be able to terminate the employee due to their weight unless the ADA is followed. Under the ADA, an employer must engage in the reasonable accommodation interactive process (which usually is requested by the employee). This is where an employer and employee attempt to figure out what assistance can be provided to the employee to perform their position. If no accommodation is possible, then an employer must check for another position that can be performed by the employee, either with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Evidence of Other Types of Discrimination

If a person is harassed, or subject to an adverse action, due to their weight, this could be evidence of other types of employment discrimination. For example, individuals can be subjected to gender based discrimination, as a result of their weight. When an employer's standards regarding weight are applied differently to women than men, this will be considered evidence of gender or sex discrimination.

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