The Americans with Disabilities Act is a hugely important piece of legislation that protects the civil rights of disabled individuals. Namely, the ADA says that disabled people cannot be discriminated against -- and the law has been amended numerous times in its existence to improve and clarify the law.
Morbid obesity is considered a disability under the ADA because of a 2008 amendment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone who is six feet tall and weighs 300 pounds would be considered morbidly obese.
No company can discriminate against an employee who is morbidly obese; and yet a BAE Systems branch near Houston fired a man because he was morbidly obese. They tried to justify the move by saying he could not "perform his job duties because of his weight." They went a step further, insisting they had not broken the law and that by not being able to perform his job, the man "posed a direct threat" to others in the office.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a discrimination lawsuit against BAE systems on the man's behalf, claiming he was indeed able to before his job. They settled out of court for $55,000, and BAE Systems will not have to admit they violated any laws.
This is not uncommon for discrimination lawsuits - usually, the plaintiff and defendant settle outside of court, expediting the process of reaching a conclusion. It is simply something to keep in mind. There won't always be a celebratory, movie-like ending to a discrimination lawsuit, where the evil corporation is defeated and the victim is congratulated for fighting the good fight.
However, what these settlements lack in drama, they make up for in compensatory awards that can help the victim recover from their wrongful treatment and allow them to move on with their lives.
Source: Star-Telegram, "Texas biz to pay for firing obese man they thought posed a danger to others," Darren Barbee, July 30, 2012
- If you would like to learn more about the topics discussed in this post, please visit our Houston discrimination page.