HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Thursday, September 14, 2006

New Disability Law Case: Obesity

Professor Sam Bagenstos at The Disability Law Blog has a great discussion of the recent 6th Circuit decision in EEOC v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc, a case involving a worker who had been fired due to his morbid obesity.  As Professor Bagenstos explains,

"The Sixth Circuit held that the worker did not have a "disability" for purposes of the ADA, because he did not show that his obesity had a "physiological cause" and therefore qualified as a "physiological disorder." Although the EEOC had shown that the worker's weight was more than 100% greater than the norm (sufficient for a diagnosis of morbid obesity under the traditional definition), they failed to show that the weight was "the result of a physiological condition."

This decision seems to me quite confused, though it's a confusing area so I cut the court some slack. What does it mean to say that morbid obesity has a "physiological cause"? All of our behavior has some physiological cause, if only from hormones and brain activity. And there's lots of reason to believe that brain proteins that alter appetite and activity levels, not to mention genetics, are substantial contributors to morbid obesity. More broadly, every fact about our body is by definition physiological. And morbid obesity, being a condition of one's physiology, is by definition a "physiological condition.""

As a commentator notes, the court seems to be adding a personal responsibility issue into the disability law.

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