Seventh Circuit Weighs in on Obesity as a Disability under the ADA
In an issue of first impression in the Seventh Circuit, the Court of Appeals upheld summary judgment in favor of the employer dismissing the Plaintiff’s claim that obesity qualified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority. Plaintiff, a former Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) bus operator, alleged that CTA violated the ADA when it refused to allow Plaintiff to return to work after a flu-related absence because it regarded him as too obese to operate a bus. Plaintiff, who weighed over 400 pounds, was transferred to a Temporary Medical Disability Area designated for employees found medically unfit to work. Following a driving performance test, CTA concluded it would be unsafe for Plaintiff to operate a CTA bus. He remained in the temporary area for two years and was discharged after he failed to submit medical documentation to extend his time in the temporary area.
Plaintiff alleged that his extreme obesity met the definition of a “physical impairment” thereby constituting a disability under the ADA. However, the appellate court sided with several other Circuit and District courts, finding that “obesity is an ADA impairment only if it is the result of an underlying physiological disorder or condition.” Plaintiff failed to present any evidence proving an underlying physiological disorder or condition caused his extreme obesity. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit grant Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.
Although the Seventh Circuit joins three other federal appeals courts in holding that obesity alone does not constitute a physical impairment under the ADA, the issue remains unsettled in other jurisdictions and under state and local laws.