Obesity could count as a disability

Does extreme obesity count as disibality? An advisor's report to Europe's top court could have ramifications for US workplace law.

Obesity could count as a disability
advisor to Europe’s top court has suggested that a European Union law preventing workplace discrimination could apply to extremely obese people.

The European Court of Justice has been asked to rule on whether existing EU law prevents discrimination on the grounds of obesity, if the condition can be considered a disability, after Danish childcare worker Karsten Kaltoft claimed that his weight contributed to him losing his job.

The Independent website reported that Niilo Jaaskinen, the advocate general who advises the court, found that the existing law does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of obesity.

But he also concluded that extreme obesity, defined as having a body mass index of more than 40, could be considered a disability.

“If obesity has reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life, then this can be a disability,” he said.

He also added that a “self-inflicted” disability like obesity was as worthy of protection as other disabilities and that the “origin of the disability is irrelevant”.

Jaaskinen’s opinion is non-binding, but the Independent reported that recommendations from advocate generals were usually followed by the court.

If it did uphold his view, the court would have to decide whether Kaltoft’s obesity fell within the classification and afforded him protection from discrimination.

International court decisions are often considered when no U.S. precedent exists. While some district courts have considered the issue, there are yet to be any binding state or federal decisions on the issue.

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