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Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.

| September 25, 2017

IS BEING MORBIDLY OBESE A DISABILITY UNDER THE ADA?

QUESTION: A long-term employee has gained a huge amount of weight in the time she has worked here. Now she wants to have her work station moved to the front door because her weight makes walking difficult. She claims she is entitled to an accommodation because she is disabled. Moving her work station would be very inconvenient to everyone on her team, who all work on the other side of the building, and would make it more difficult for the employee to do her job – her work requires a lot of back-and-forth consultation with co-workers. What should I do?

ANSWER: Recent federal cases say that morbid obesity is not a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), unless the obesity stems from a physiological disorder or condition. If your employee has become obese because she eats too much and does not get exercise – and not because of some underlying physical condition — she likely is not considered disabled under the ADA. Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act, which also grants protections similar to those under the ADA, follows the same standards as the federal law – so your worker likely would not be considered disabled under Michigan Law, either.

Michigan workers, however, are protected from discrimination because of weight under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. While the situation you describe does not appear to involve any allegation that you are discriminating against the employee because she is obese, the possibility of a lawsuit on that ground should not be ruled out.

A wise employer will try to accommodate workers where possible – and avoid the possibility of being sued. If moving her work station to the front door would be an undue hardship on the rest of the team, and would also affect her ability to perform her own job, perhaps you could suggest an alternative? The cost of a motorized chair, for instance, is probably less than the cost of a lawsuit.

If you want to learn how to better protect yourself from a lawsuit under either of these laws, or if an employee (or former employee) is threatening to bring a suit against you, you may wish to consult with an attorney. The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinntauriainenlaw.com.

Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.

GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC, is a Troy based law firm representing clients from Warren, Sterling Heights, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Oakland and Wayne Counties and all of Southeast Michigan

ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3300
(248) 247-3310 facsimile
daniel@gwinnlegal.com
http://www.gwinntauriainenlaw.com/

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