Imagine you are a human resources professional or in-house employment counsel and you learn that an employee in your organization is seeking a job transfer or other accommodation because with a body weight of almost 600 pounds, he is too overweight to do his present job. What do you do?
A recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit highlights how courts across the country have interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in workplace situations involving obesity. If a workplace challenge relating to obesity hasn’t happened in your organization yet, it is increasingly likely to happen soon. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that rates of American adults with obesity have continued to increase over the past decade according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their findings comport with a trend line dating back to the 1980s. With that trend in mind, let’s examine Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority, 926 F.3d 881 (7th Cir. 2019).
Mark Richardson worked as a bus driver for 13 years. In September of 2010, weighing nearly 600 pounds, Richardson’s employer required that he undergo a safety assessment following a medical leave. During the assessment, he was unable to perform several safety driving functions (for example, hand-over-hand steering) because of his obesity. Richardson argued under the ADA and related agency regulations and guidance that severe obesity should automatically qualify as an ADA impairment, without having to show any other underlying physiological cause.