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Obese Bus Driver Could Not Meet ADA Standard

A bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority, Mark Richardson, weighed over 500 pounds. Shortly after being off of work with the flu, Mr. Richardson was transferred to an administrative holding area for employees with medical diagnoses until he was cleared for work. Once cleared, he underwent a special assessment to ensure that he could safely operate a bus. During the assessment, it was noted that he had to lean against the bus while performing the pre-trip inspection and that he appeared “unhealthy” due to his sweating. The assessment also revealed that he could not turn the steering wheel “hand over hand” because of his stomach, and his size made it difficult for him to avoid having his foot on the gas and brake at the same time. Deemed unsafe, the CTA would not allow him to return to work.

Mr. Richardson sued the CTA, claiming that they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. He contended that his obesity was a disability. The district court ruled that obesity was not a disability absent an underlying physiological basis. Citing a recent circuit court decision, the court noted that “an individual’s weight is generally a physical characteristic that qualifies as a physical impairment only it if falls outside the normal range and it occurs as the result of a physiological disorder.” Mr. Richardson did assert that he suffered from uncontrolled hypertension and sleep apnea but failed to show they caused his obesity.

The district court also ruled against Mr. Richardson’s regarded-as disability claim. To prevail, he had to show that the company discriminated against him “because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment.” Here as well, Mr. Richardson had to demonstrate that there was an underlying condition creating the obesity, which he could not do.