While certain forms of discrimination may be frowned upon in the media, they are not necessarily overtly illegal. For instance, sexual orientation is not considered a protected class in Missouri. If an employer fires someone because he or she is gay, a lawyer would have to argue that this is a form of gender or sex discrimination. The employee would not be able to argue that the employer discriminated against him or her for being gay per se.
For those who are overweight, there is a similar obstacle in place, since being overweight is not a protected class per se. However, it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their having a disability. The question then becomes, what constitutes a disability under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)?
Discriminating Against Some Obese Employees in Some Situations is Illegal
In order for an employee to claim that he or she was discriminated against because he or she is overweight, the employee must likewise be able to claim that he or she has been diagnosed as obese by a doctor. While courts were reluctant at the outset to consider obesity as a disability for the purposes of litigation, it has become increasingly common for employees to sue for discrimination on the basis of obesity.
On the other hand, according to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans qualify as obese. Furthermore, the ADA is aimed at those who cannot by medical intervention correct their disability. For instance, someone who is obese can often diet or exercise to conceivably help them correct the issue. However, someone who is morbidly obese as a result of some other condition would not necessarily have any medical intervention available to him or her.
The courts have always permitted such cases to be heard on a case by case basis. There are certainly situations under which an individual has been unfairly discriminated against due to weight, suffered workplace harassment or a hostile work environment, or been terminated for a position for which he or she was qualified. A cab driver who suddenly lost his or her vision would not be able to claim that his or her employment was terminated because of a disability since no reasonable accommodation could be met to facilitate that employment moving forward.
What to do if You Feel You are Being Discriminated Against on the Basis of Your Weight
If you as an employee believe that you are being treated improperly by your employer and that this has created a hostile work environment, you should involve a lawyer in the process as soon as possible. You should also take the situation up with your HR department or report it to a superior as soon as possible.
The law is tricky when it comes to the treatment of obesity as a disability. It is much less tricky when it comes to retaliation for reporting harassment in the workplace.
In other words, an employee bringing a lawsuit against an employer for discrimination based on disability can lose that claim entirely but still win on the claim that he or she was retaliated against for the complaint.
If you have been subjected to workplace discrimination or harassment, HKM Employment Attorneys of Kansas City can help guide you through the process of ensuring a safe and accommodating work environment for your needs. If your employer fails you, we can also help you get your day in court. Give us a call at 816.607.4691 and we will discuss your case with you.