MORBID OBESITY COVERED UNDER THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT?

            The Americans with Disabilities Act covers individuals with disabilities who generally must be accommodated in their workplace. The question in our case today is whether a worker who weighed 370 lbs. has a “physical impairment” covered by ADA law.

HIRING OF EMPLOYEE

            Jose Valtierra began working for Medtronic in 2004 as a facility maintenance technician. The company makes specialized medical devices used for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

            Valtierra weighed 300 lbs. at the time of his hiring, but his weight had increased to more than 370 lbs. when his employment was terminated. As the Court of Appeals concluded, Valtierra suffered from a condition commonly known as morbid obesity.

            His supervisor noticed that Valtierra had difficulty walking. More importantly, that although Valtierra had left for vacation, he reported he had already completed twelve assignments he had not completed. He later admitted he had not performed all the work but intended to do so after he returned from vacation. Medtronic terminated Valtierra for falsifying his employment records.

CLAIMED ADA VIOLATION

            Valtierra sued Medtronic claiming he suffered from morbid obesity – an ADA-covered – disability; and his termination was unlawful discrimination in violation of the Act. Medtronic argued Valtierra’s weight is not a covered ADA physical impairment.

            Consistent with decisions of several federal circuit courts, the district court ruled for Medtronic, concluding, “Obesity, no matter how great, cannot constitute a disability under the ADA or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations.” Valtierra appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

COURT RULING

            The Court of Appeals upheld the district court, writing that being overweight, even morbidly obese, was not an impairment unless the result of a physiological disorder. There was no evidence that Valtierra’s condition resulted from a physiological disorder.

            To be more precise in our case analysis, the Court of Appeals “suggested” that morbid obesity was not a covered disability but did not issue a definitive ruling, finding instead that Medtronic has grounds to terminate Valtierra because he had falsified his employment records. Morbid obesity was not the cause of his filing. ADA claim rejected.

           Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada.  Jim’s practice areas include:  real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters.  He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.   Like us on Facebook.    ©2019