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Obesity: A Covered “Disability” Under California Law

Physician Measuring Patients Belly

August 21, 2018 – As most of us know, obesity has become a national epidemic and is increasing rapidly throughout the United States. With obesity being so prevalent, it is not surprising that those who suffer from obesity are often mistreated and/or singled out at the workplace. But are they protected under the law?

Under the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”), it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee on the basis of physical or mental disability. Additionally, under the FEHA, it is unlawful to fail to provide a disabled employee with reasonable accommodations.

So, is obesity considered a disability under the FEHA? In Cassista v. Community Foods, Inc., the California Supreme Court held “that weight may qualify as a protected ‘handicap’ or ‘disability’ within the meaning of the FEHA if the medical evidence demonstrates that it results from a physiological condition…”

A recent California Court of Appeal case, Cornell v. Berkeley Tennis Club, clarified the definition of “physiological” and held that an employee’s obesity may be considered a disability under the FEHA if the condition has a genetic cause or is genetically determined. Though the Court left these liberal terms open for further interpretation, it nevertheless made clear that the FEHA now offers greater protections to employees who suffer from obesity, including the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

If you, any friends, or family members believe you’ve been harassed or discriminated in the workplace due to obesity, call us for a free consultation.

Know your rights,