A whole lot of readers who are in the legal/HR/healthcare business expressed forceful opinions about our post last week which described a new court decision that upheld the viability of a claim that obesity may be a “disability” under the ADA. This, after the American Medical Associaton declared obesity a “disease.”
The issue of obesity and employment discrimination seems to sit on a fault line of sorts, eliciting strong views about the meaning of “disability” and “disease,” the aspect of “personal responsibility” that many argue for, and the role of lawyers, the legal system (and doctors!) in defining the medical/legal issues.
Before we post these reader comments, we take note of a blog post on obesity in the UK by one of our readers, Christopher Catt, a business coach and expert on workplace disability in the UK: ” http://thelifecoachstation.co.uk/2014/04/obesity-disability-workplace/
OK, now for some reader comments about our obesity blog:
Pamela Kleinberg, a NYC trial attorney:
“This is utterly ridiculous. That means that 1/3 of our middle aged population is disabled. Really? Or are they just fat?”
Tim Keeley, a professor in Fukuoka, Japan:
“This is indicative of a culture that has lost it way in terms of defining personal responsibility.”
James M. Smith, a health care data consultant in the NYC area:
“Studies show that when the government (the US or any other government) defines a “protected class” to which certain benefits accrue, there is a rush to become a member of that protected class. This results in a dilution of the original intent of defining the protected class.”
“I agree with Dr. Smith, and would like to add that any rush to join this protected class will only serve to exacerbate our country’s already ballooning problem with obesity. In addition, while some people may be genetically predisposed to obesity, there are many others who simply have poor health habits. Should the failure to maintain a healthy diet and perform even minimal exercise constitute a “disease” for which protected class status should be awarded?”
Richard Belloff, an assistant professor at Des Moines University: “‘Ballooning problem with obesity.’ Hey, that is funny! Good one.”
Ruth Ann Killion, Division Chief, US Census Bureau, DC metro area:
“Being obese is a disease. For some reason, one’s body does not react appropriately to the introduction of food. Some of it is overeating and self-induced. The penchant to gain/hold weight is not self-induced. For some of us, severely altering our body’s ability to react to food is the answer — at least a partial one. For others, nothing seems to help.
Discrimination against obese people is rampant in virtually every walk of life. Being obese can impair one’s ability to physically function. If able to perform the physical aspects of a job, though, a person should not be kept from doing what they can demonstrate they are capable of. Not being a lawyer, I won’t venture into the field of ADA.”
Fred Gatt, an SF area attorney:
“What a shame. Personal accountability in America may very well be going the way of the dinosaur. Thank you Trial Lawyers.”
Trey Wimberly, a Gulfport, Mississipi attorney:
“Mr. Gatt, perhaps you should thank the AMA as well. I’m sure the AMA’s decision had nothing to do with prompting insurers to pay for more treatments. Let’s give credit where credit is due.”
Takeaway: This is in for a real contentious debate. In the meantime, we predict that more courts will follow this one’s lead, and cite to the AMA ‘s views on obesity as a disease. If that’s the case, comments in the workplace such as “they are just fat” better stay out of an employer’s lexicon.