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Seventh Circuit Set to Decide Whether Obesity Protected by ADAAA

Prior to 2008, federal courts had held that obesity was not a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) unless tied to a physiological disorder. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is set to decide in 2019 whether the amendments to the ADA enacted in 2008 require a different conclusion.
Mark Richardson was an obese bus driver working for the Chicago Transit Authority. He claimed that he was fired from his job because he is obese. He filed suit, which was dismissed by the federal district court on the grounds that obesity did not qualify as an impairment. Mr. Richardson is supported in his appeal of the decision by numerous obesity advocacy and medical groups, including AARP. They argue that the American Medical Association has recognized “obesity as a disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention.” Moreover, they assert that the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act (ADAAA) requires recognition that obesity could be an impairment.
The Chicago Transit Authority is arguing that Congress intentionally maintained the “impairment” aspect of the ADA and because the amendments did not address prior court decisions, there is no legislative intent to change the handling of impairment and obesity claims. In addition, they argue that it would be too burdensome to expand protections for obesity beyond being tied to a physical disorder.