Can Obesity Be the Basis of a Valid Disability Discrimination Case in California?

There are many different forms of workplace discrimination that violate the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Sex discrimination, race discrimination, national origin discrimination, religious discrimination, and disability discrimination are just a few. When it comes to disability discrimination, there are a variety of conditions that qualify. Many illnesses, whether physical or mental, may entitle a worker to the anti-discrimination protections of the law. If you think you’ve suffered from disability discrimination at work, you should contact a knowledgeable California disability discrimination attorney promptly.

While conditions ranging from diabetes to bipolar disorder, and MS to PTSD, are covered, what about obesity? A recent case from the Bay Area addressed that exact question. The employee, Ketryn, had worked at a tennis club since 1997. She had also struggled with her weight since childhood. By 2012, she weighed 350 pounds and had a body-mass index in excess of 55, placing her in the category of Class III, or extreme, obesity.

The woman’s employment with the club was successful, with positive performance evaluations, merit bonuses, and raises for roughly a decade and a half. Then, in 2012, the club hired a new general manager. According to Ketryn, the new manager mocked her size, asked her “out of the blue” about whether she’d considered weight-loss surgery, did not consider her for extra hours of work, refused to consider her for promotions, and also paid her less than a newly hired (and petite) college student, even though Ketryn had more than a decade of experience with the club.

In the spring of 2013, the club fired Ketryn. The club claimed that it took the action because Ketryn had attempted to secretly record a meeting of the club’s Board of Directors. Ketryn asserted that the termination was a result of discrimination against her due to her weight.

The trial court ruled for the employer, but, on appeal, the Court of Appeal revived part of the woman’s discrimination case. The appellate court’s ruling stated that Ketryn was entitled to go to trial on her claims that the club committed disability discrimination when it fired her due to her obesity.

The court’s opinion is an important reminder of the rights you have under the law when you suffer from weight-related discrimination at work. If your obesity is something for which there is a “physiological, systemic basis for the condition,” your obesity may qualify as a disability, and you may be entitled to pursue a disability discrimination case. In Ketryn’s case, she retained a medical expert who reviewed her medical records and who concluded that the woman likely had a genetic condition affecting metabolism, and this condition was the cause of her severe obesity. If a court found this evidence persuasive, this genetic condition could provide the sort of physiological cause needed to support an obesity-related disability discrimination claim.

Regardless of the reasons why, if you believe that you have been a victim of discrimination at work, you should consult legal counsel about your situation. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have been working diligently on behalf of mistreated workers for many years. To learn more about how to put our team to work for you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

How a California Worker Got to Pursue Her Discrimination Case Despite Signing an Arbitration Agreement, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Dec. 14, 2017

Workplace Absences and How They Can Influence Your California Disability Discrimination Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Dec. 15, 2016

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