Is Being Obese Or Overweight A Disability Under California Law? Courts Say ‘Yes’

By: JML Law | May 2, 2018.

Is obesity a disability under California’s discrimination laws? In other words, can you sue your employer or supervisor for making fun of your weight or fat-shaming you in the workplace? You might, but it is complicated.

While you are certainly hoping to hear a short and straightforward question, you will not. As California’s discrimination laws constantly evolve, obese and overweight people in Los Angeles and all across California are now able to sue their employers and supervisors for discriminating against them based on their weight.

The prospect of an employee filing a discrimination lawsuit against his/her employer due to discriminatory remarks or actions targeting the employee’s obesity could not be even imagined a few years back, but California employment laws are broadening the definition of “disability.”

Our Los Angeles discrimination attorney at the JML Law explains that employees all across California succeed in their efforts to sue employers and supervisors for discriminating against on the basis of obesity more often than ever before. And that is definitely a good thing.

Discrimination and harassment based on obesity

Late last year, a California Appellate Court ruled that obesity can be considered a disability under California law, but obesity must meet certain requirements in order to fall into the “disability” category. Let’s review a very specific case that took place last year.

Ketryn Cornell, an obese (5’5″, 350 pounds) former employee at Berkeley Tennis Club, filed a lawsuit against her supervisor alleging disability discrimination and harassment on the basis of her obesity. Mrs. Cornell had been working at the company since 1997, and served as a Night Manager, Day Manager and Tennis Court Washer.

Cornell had received positive performance reviews in addition to several bonuses and raises until a new supervisor joined the Club in 2012. The new supervisor made it clear that he wanted to “change the image” of the company. And that is when Cornell became a victim of discrimination and harassment on the basis of her obesity.

Examples of discrimination based on obesity

The supervisor’s misconduct included but was not limited to:

  1. Telling her to undergo a weight-loss surgery
  2. Advising the kitchen staff against giving her extra food because “she does not need it”
  3. Telling Cornell “not to eat that” (when he saw her eating)
  4. Requiring employees to wear uniforms that were not big enough for Cornell’s size
  5. Refusing to make size 5X-7X shirt for her instead of the standard 2X size
  6. Accusing Cornell of “resisting policy” by not wearing the uniform she could not fit in.

These are only a few examples of harassment and discriminatory actions and remarks Cornell had faced while working for that new supervisor. Cornell outlined all of these discriminatory actions and behaviors in her discrimination lawsuit and took legal action against the supervisor.

Yes, obesity is a disability under California law

The Court found that this was sufficient evidence to make a discrimination and harassment claim. As a result, Cornell won the case, as the Court found that the woman’s obesity qualified as a disability since there was a “genetic cause.” After reviewing the Cornell vs. Berkeley Tennis Club Supervisor (2017) case, our Los Angeles discrimination attorney at the JML Law noted that it was sufficient for Cornell’s doctor to prove a genetic cause based on her body mass index alone.

The ruling was truly revolutionary, and proved that what constitutes a “disability” under California employment law is always subject to interpretation and changes. Previously, however, courts in California insisted that obesity could not be considered a disability unless there was a “physiological cause.”

Have you been discriminated against by your supervisor or employer based on your obesity or any other disability? Do not hesitate to consult with our best discrimination attorneys in California at the JML Law. Schedule a free consultation today. Call at 818-610-8800 or send us an email.

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