Recently, in Morriss v. BNSF Ry. Co., U.S., No. 16-233, cert. denied Oct. 3, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a rejected job applicant’s claim that morbid obesity should be covered as an impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).
Melvin Morriss, a 285-pound worker denied a machinist job by BNSF Railway Co., sought review of a decision that the ADA does not cover obesity unless the condition is linked to an underlying physiological disorder.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in an appeals court brief had supported Morriss’ contention that morbid obesity, without more, is covered by the ADA.
But the Supreme Court without comment declined to take up the ADA coverage issue.
In seeking review, Morriss said under the ADA Amendments Act, which broadened the act’s definition of covered conditions, morbid obesity should be deemed an “actual or perceived impairment” regardless of whether it is linked to another physiological condition.
The ADA, as amended in 2008, broadly protects workers who are “regarded as disabled,” either because of an actual or perceived impairment.
The Eighth Circuit is the first appeals court to discuss morbid obesity under the ADA since the law was amended to broaden protections for workers with disabilities.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in a Rehabilitation Act case said morbid obesity is a physiological disorder involving the metabolic and neurological systems.
The First Circuit also said regardless of the cause of an individual’s obesity, a defendant that acts as if obesity affects the individual’s bodily system has “perceived” the individual as impaired.
The justices refused to grant review to resolve the conflict between the First Circuit’s reading of the Rehabilitation Act, which shares its definitions with the ADA, and the Eighth Circuit’s holding that the ADA doesn’t cover morbid obesity on its own.
Notably, the Supreme Court has not construed the ADA’s definition of disability since the act was amended.