Karate Instructor Suit Sent Back for Hearings

May 12, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A federal appellate court has instructed a lower court judge to decide whether a former Karate instructor who says he was fired for being obese can claim protection under the New York City Human Rights Law.

The New York Law Journal said the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent back to U.S. District Judge Sandra L. Townes of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York the case of Spiegel v. SchulmannIn that case, plaintiff Elliot Spiegel sued his former Karate school employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York state and local discrimination statutes, alleging he was fired because of his weight.

The 2nd Circuit said the issue of whether “obesity alone constitutes a disability” under the law has yet to be addressed by the New York Court of Appeals or any intermediate appellate court.

The appellate judges said Townes erred in rejecting as hearsay a statement Spiegel attributed to the company to the effect that Spiegel had, in fact, been fired because of his girth. Townes had found there was a lack of evidence that the firing was pretextual.

“Had the district court considered the plaintiffs’ evidence on this point, it could not have relied on the lack of evidence of pretext as a basis for granting summary judgment on this claim,” the appellate court said. “Rather, it would have been required to determine whether the plaintiffs satisfied the prima facie element of their municipal law claim.”

The 2nd Circuit upheld the remainder of Townes’ ruling throwing out the rest of Spiegel’s discrimination claims except for the issue of whether the city’s law would recognize obesity as a disability.