Appellate courts in two neighboring states—Kentucky and West Virginia—have reached different conclusions on whether obesity is a disability.
In the Kentucky case, the plaintiff, who was approximately five feet four inches in height and weighed four hundred twenty-five pounds, claimed that her employer had unlawfully discriminated against her due to her morbid obesity in violation of the state law prohibiting disability discrimination. An individual is morbidly obese when he or she is either double the normal weight or at least 100 pounds more than normal weight. The trial court had granted summary judgment to the employer. Reversing that decision, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff’s morbid obesity was a disability. The court noted that a morbidly obese person is substantially limited in the major life activity of caring for oneself, noting that “a simple activity such as tying one’s shoes is complicated and difficult due to the condition.” Pennington v. Wagner’s Pharmacy, Inc. (KY Ct. of App., July 12, 2013).
In the West Virginia case, the plaintiff, a blackjack dealer who weighed approximately 540 pounds, also claimed he was terminated due to his morbid obesity in violation of the state law prohibiting disability discrimination. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals held that obesity was not a per se disability under the state statute and that the plaintiff did not provide any evidence that his obesity substantially limited him in any major life activity. The court affirmed summary judgment for the employer. Andrew O. v. Racing Corporation of West Virginia d/b/a Mardi Gras Casino and Resort (W.Va. Sup. Ct. App., June 24, 2013).
The disagreement about obesity extends beyond these two courts. Earlier this year, the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease. According to a New York Times report, in adopting this position, the AMA rejected a committee recommendation that obesity not be considered a disease.