“Obesity Alone” Is Not a Disability under the New Jersey Law against Discrimination

Rosemary McKenna

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel for the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed a 2018 trial court decision granting summary judgment against a self-described obese former bus driver for defendant Community Bus Lines, Inc. (“Community”), and dismissing the driver’s claim for violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJ LAD”). In doing so, the appellate court held that “obesity alone is not protected under the NJ LAD as a disability unless it has an underlying medical cause.” Because plaintiff, in part, failed to present any direct or circumstantial evidence that defendants perceived the driver as disabled due to a medical condition that caused him to be overweight, the appellate court found his claim was without merit.

Case Background

The plaintiff in this matter worked as a bus driver for Community for 10 years during which time he weighed between 500 and 600 pounds. To maintain his status as an active bus driver, he was required to undergo a medical examination every two years and obtain medical certification verifying his fitness to drive. In 2015, a doctor certified by the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”) conducted plaintiff’s examination and temporarily disqualified him from driving a bus pending further testing. The plaintiff never followed through to complete the required additional testing and was therefore placed “out of service.” Despite his failure to schedule the follow-up testing, plaintiff’s supervisor referred him for a second opinion to another doctor, who confirmed the prior conclusions and found that further testing was needed before a medical certification could be issued. Neither doctor who examined plaintiff determined that he was disabled but only that further testing was required before he could be certified. Plaintiff again did not pursue the required testing and remained on leave. Continue reading ““Obesity Alone” Is Not a Disability under the New Jersey Law against Discrimination”

Too Fat to Work Here?—Not So Fast

Scott F. Cooper

A decision this week from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has further fueled the debate over whether obesity is a protected impairment under federal and state law.

In Casey Taylor et al. v. Burlington Northern Railroad Holdings Inc. et al., Case No. 16-35205 (9th Cir. Sept. 17, 2018), Burlington rejected Taylor’s application to become an electronic technician because his Body Mass Index (“BMI”) placed him in the “severely” or “morbidly” obese category. Complicating this case is that the company’s chief medical officer otherwise found Taylor qualified for the position. The company also was willing to reconsider the application if Taylor undertook additional pre-hire medical screening at his own expense. The Ninth Circuit earlier this year held that shifting pre-hire medical examination costs to an applicant is unlawful.

The Ninth Circuit certified the issue and sent it to the Supreme Court of Washington to determine its application under Washington state law. Pending that ruling, the Ninth Circuit will then resolve the issue under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). How these decisions come out could have sweeping implications for employers who have acted against obese job applicants and employees. Continue reading “Too Fat to Work Here?—Not So Fast”