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Employers may violate disability discrimination laws if they discriminate against morbidly obese employees

Earlier this year, the Maine Human Rights Commission determined that Greyhound Lines, the bus company, violated the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) when it failed to provide reasonable accommodations to a passenger who needed those accommodations because she had health issues, including morbid obesity. It found that the passenger’s health issues fell under the MHRA’s definition of “disability” and that Greyhound’s actions constituted disability discrimination. The same definition of disability in this Greyhound case applies in employment discrimination cases. As such, employers may violate the MHRA’s disability discrimination provisions if they refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to or discriminate against morbidly obese employees.

For example, earlier this year in Kentucky, an appellate court held that an employer engaged in disability discrimination, in violation of Kentucky state law, when it fired a morbidly obese employee because of her morbidly obese appearance. In that case, a medical expert testified that the employee’s morbid obesity was caused by a physiological condition–which was key to the court’s decision. The court borrowed the reasoning from federal courts that have interpreted the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and concluded that morbid obesity may only constitute a disability if there’s evidence that a physiological disorder has caused it.

If you need reasonable accommodations to do your job because you are morbidly obese and your employer refuses to provide you with those accommodations or your employer has discriminated against you because of your morbidly obese appearance, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.