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Seventh Circuit Also Says Obesity Alone Not Covered By ADA

Joining previous decisions by the Second, Sixth and Eighth Circuits, the Seventh Circuit has held that extreme obesity is not considered an impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) absent an underlying medical condition.
Mark Richardson, the plaintiff in the case, was a 596-pound bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Because he weighed over 400 pounds and the driver’s seats were designed to hold only that amount, Richardson was required to undergo a safety assessment. During that assessment, it was determined that he was unable to do hand-over-hand steering, he kept both feet on the pedals, and his leg pressed up against the lever that opened the rear door, all safety issues connected to his size. Richardson argued that his extreme obesity should automatically qualify as an impairment under the ADA.
The appellate court rejected the argument that extreme obesity should be considered an ADA impairment. This argument arose out of the theory that the medical community, as well as federal and state policymakers, view obesity as a disease. In reaching its conclusion that it did not automatically qualify, the circuit court stated: “the ADA is an antidiscrimination – not a public health-statute, and Congress’s desires as it relates to the ADA do not necessarily align with those of the medical community.” The court also remarked that with nearly 40% of adult Americans qualifying as obese, to make it an automatic ADA impairment would lead to a “nonrealistic result.” EEOC guidance on the issue was also considered by the court in making its decision, and it concluded that the plain meaning of that guidance supported a finding that an underlying physiological disorder was required to qualify for ADA protection.