California Law Allows for Obesity Discrimination Claims

California Law Allows for Obesity Discrimination Claims

In December of 2017, an Appellate Court in California published an in-depth decision discussing obesity as a disability under state law. Does this mean that obesity is now considered a protected disability? Can a supervisor be reprimanded or sued after making remarks about someone’s weight? Changes are being made to the law that could lead to more cases for a Los Angeles discrimination attorney.

The Case

It started with Ketryn Cornell, an obese woman weighing over 300 pounds, who was fired by her employers at Berkeley Tennis Club after allegedly planting a listening device in an attempt to record a board meeting. Cornell held three positions with the company: Day Manager, Night Manager, and Tennis Court Washer, and had worked there for 15 years before having any problems. After being let go, she claimed she had been harassed and discriminated against due to a disability – her obesity.

The Discrimination

An employee of Berkeley Tennis Club since 1997, Cornell had received raises, merit bonuses, and positive reviews until she was assigned to a new supervisor in 2012. This new supervisor wanted to change the club’s image.

Cornell alleged that she was harassed and discriminated against by her supervisor who suggested she undergo weight-loss surgery. He also allegedly told the kitchen staff not to give her extra food due to her weight and told her “not to eat that.”

Cornell also claims she was mistreated when the same supervisor required new uniforms. Cornell says she repeatedly told her supervisor that she needed a size 5X-7X, but he only provided her with a 2X, and then reported her to the Board for resisting policy by not wearing the uniform. Cornell tried to rectify the situation by emailing her supervisor to ask that he understand her special needs/disability and be accommodating. The Court stated that this was enough evidence for the harassment and discrimination claims to move past summary adjudication and proceed before the Court.

The Verdict

In the past, courts have generally stated that obesity did not qualify as a disability unless there was a physiological cause for it. However, language was recently deleted by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) that said, “except in rare circumstances, obesity is not considered a disabling impairment.”

In Cornell’s case, the Court stated that a genetic cause could be a physiological cause. And, the employee’s doctor testified at summary judgment that body mass index alone indicated a genetic cause.

This decision is a great example of the fact that the term “disability” is always evolving under California law. Employers would be smart to take note of this decision and be sensitive to complaints of obesity discrimination.

If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated or discriminated against by your employer based on your weight, talk to a Los Angeles discrimination attorney at JML Law. We’ll work towards making you feel powerful instead of powerless and get you the compensation you deserve to cover lost wages and emotional distress. Call us at 818-610-8800 today for a free consultation.

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