The EEOC is at it again! They recently sued a nonprofit employer because they fired a woman allegedly because of her weight. Quite frankly, she was obese, and had some difficulty in performing her job. According to the EEOC press release, “The filing of this suit sends a strong message to employers that they cannot fire disabled employees based on perceptions and prejudice.”
Admittedly, there have been a number of cases when an employer fired an employee because of his size. One worked for a subway as the person who drove the train. He gained weight over the years and could no longer fit in that tiny compartment. Another one was a bus driver who basically had the same type of problem. These situations are actually becoming hotly contested issues.
Proponents of anti-weight-bias statutes argue that a person’s weight is largely out of his or her control; they point to the low success rate of diets and the role of genetics in determining weight, as well as persistent discrimination against heavier individuals. Opponents, on the other hand, claim that weight is substantively different than fixed characteristics like race and sex, and that obese employees are more costly than other employees due to heightened healthcare costs.
Although this case is still undecided employers need to be aware that disability claims are on the rise and have to be extremely careful. In fact, recent amendments to the federal ADA have broadened the definition of “disability” in a number of ways. California has even stricter guidelines.
As a final note just remember to stay focused on the requirements of the job and always document poor performance. This employer appears to have made comments about the former employee’s weight. Stay away from making personal remarks and opinions.
I will keep you on how this case turns out.