Is this where the buck stops with “obesity as disability” cases?
HR pros who are up on their employment law know that more courts are leaning toward obesity as a disability.
But that’s not what this court found.
Gina Powell, who was 5’3″ and weighed 230 pounds, was fired from her job as a field salesperson for a hospice company. She sued, claiming she was “regarded as” disabled and wrongly fired for being overweight.
First, the court examined whether Powell was actually disabled — and concluded she wasn’t. Though she was overweight — and admitted to being so during testimony — Powell was never diagnosed as obese or morbidly obese.
Powell was also unaware of any underlying medical condition that has caused or contributed to her “overweight” status — and her weight didn’t cause or create other health conditions.
Finally, Powell said her weight didn’t affect her ability to do her job at all. Therefore, the court concluded, Powell didn’t qualify as “disabled” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Next, the court examined whether Powell had been “regarded as” disabled. (Remember: Employees who aren’t disabled but are treated as such can still file suits and win disability claims in court.)
Here, too, Powell’s claim failed. Yes, the court acknowledged that Powell’s area vice president once said that no one wanted to buy hospice services from an overweight person.
But that one comment didn’t serve as enough evidence for the court to qualify as bias due to Powell’s weight.
Finally, the court took a look at whether Powell was wrongly fired — and agreed her termination was justified.
The court confirmed she had a number of performance issues, specifically low sales.
For all those reasons, the court found that the company hadn’t violated the ADA in firing Powell. Case closed.
She was never impaired
Randi Klein Hyatt, attorney with Kollman & Sauciuer, had the following takeaway for HR:
The court aptly noted “plenty of people with an undesirable physical characteristic are not impaired in any sense of the word.” Whether a neon green mohawk or a person carrying extra weight, neither the hairstyle nor the weight is an impairment on its own.
The case is Powell v. Gentiva Health Services.