A former employee filed suit in federal court against a Missouri car dealership last week claiming he was fired for being severely obese. Whittaker v. America’s Car-Mart, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-00108, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
Plaintiff Joseph Whittaker claims that America’s Car Mart, Inc. violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it fired him because of his weight, taking the position that his severe obesity is a physical impairment within the meaning of the ADA. In his complaint, Whittaker alleged that he was “substantially limited in one or more major life activities, including but not limited to walking.” He also alleged that he was able to perform all of the essential functions of his position as General Manager, with or without an accommodation.
Conspicuously missing from the complaint was Whittaker’s weight.
Courts are likely to see an upward trend in similar lawsuits filed by obese plaintiffs claiming they are disabled under the ADA. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, adult obesity in the United States is now 27.1%, higher than it has been in previous years. Just last month, the American Medical Association officially declared obesity “a multi-metabolic and hormonal disease” requiring treatment. Although there have been no court decisions on the issue yet, obese individuals have recently won settlements on disability discrimination claims filed by the EEOC, tipping the scales in favor of employees. This trend is likely to continue.