Morbid Obesity per se Not ADA Protected

September 28, 2006 ( - A federal appellate court has ruled that a morbidly obese person can only prevail in an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) discrimination lawsuit if their weight problem grew out of a physiological condition.

Through the ruling in the case involving driver and freight loader Stephen Grindle, the 6 th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision by US District Judge Thomas Rose of the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Grindle, who weighed about 400 pounds in November 1995 when he suffered a knee injury while working for Watkins Motor Lines, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Watkins had fired him because of his being grossly overweight. The EEOC filed suit on Grindle’s behalf, losing in its arguments before Rose, and then appealing to the 6th Circuit. 

The appellate judges asserted that protection under theADA was not intended for those who were simply different physically.

“We simply intended to emphasize that the plaintiffs’ conditions were far from constituting anADA impairment as, not only were the plaintiffs’ conditions not physiologically caused, but they were not even abnormally obese,” the appellate judges wrote. “To interpret (prior case law) any other way would suggest that we held that any physical abnormality – for example, someone extremely tall or grossly short – may be ADA impairment. We decline to extend ADA protection to all “abnormal” (whatever that term may mean) physical characteristics. “

The appellate ruling in EEOC vs. Watkins Motor Lines  is  here .