Can your business be sued for not accommodating an individual who is overweight? What about if that individual is obese?
Generally, the answer is “no.” There are no federal laws which specifically prohibit obesity discrimination, but some individuals have argued that their weight can be considered a disability for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Recently, Martin Kessman has filed suit against White Castle to test the limits of the ADA because he cannot wedge himself into a seat at his local White Castle. Kessman, who is approximately 290 pounds and admits to being a “big guy,” is claiming that his local White Castle is in violation of the ADA because its seating cannot accommodate an individual of his size. Kessman further claims that he smacked his knee into a metal post while trying to wedge himself into the stationary seating.
The ADA prohibits discrimination based on a disability in the areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, and services operated by private entities, transportation, and telecommunications. To prevail in an ADA discrimination claim, a plaintiff must show, among other things, that he/she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.
The ADA regulations which address obesity and whether it can be an impairment that qualifies as a disability states that only in rare circumstances will obesity be considered a disability. Further, the EEOC states that being overweight, in and of itself, generally is not an impairment. However, severe obesity, which has been defined as body weight more than 100% over the norm is clearly an impairment.
So, what does this all mean for Mr. Kessman? It is unlikely that he is going to prevail, but he is not alone is his efforts.