Obesity And Disability Discrimination
Two recent cases have considered the issue of whether the condition of obesity, generally recognised as a growing health concern, can in itself be considered as a disability for the purposes of discrimination law. These cases are summarised below. Case Walker v SITA Information Networking Computing Ltd (2013) Eq Opp Rev 236:28, EAT Facts W, an employee of S, suffered from functional overlay compounded by obesity. He had a wide range of symptoms. He complained of disability discrimination. The ET found that he was not disabled because there was no specific diagnosis of any mental condition on his part and no physical organic cause had been identified apart from obesity. W appealed to the EAT.
Decision 1. Obesity itself cannot amount to a disability. 2.Obesity may be of evidential value in judging the effect and likely duration of an impairment. 3. If the employment judge had correctly considered the effect of the impairment instead of being distracted by its cause, he would inevitably have found that W was disabled within the meaning of the Act.
Case Kaltoft v The Municipality of Billund (2014) Court of Justice of the European Union C-354/13
Decision Obesity is not in itself a disability. But where obesity has reached a stage where it hinders full participation in professional life, it can amount to a disability. The key issue is whether there is an impairment. The classification by the World Health Organisation of obesity as an illness is not determinative of it being a disability.