washington state, obesity, disability
Washington State lawmakers have determined obesity a disability in-and-of-itself, making discrimination on the grounds of it illegal. (Photo via Publicdomainpictures.net)

Washington State Supreme Court Determines Obesity Discrimination Unlawful

The Washington State Supreme Court has declared it illegal to not offer an employee a job because of their weight. The court ruled the state’s definition of disability applies to obesity.

Federal laws do not explicitly protect against discrimination based on obesity. Under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not list weight as a protected category, citing only race, color, sex, religion and national origin. U.S. federal appeals courts have ruled obesity in-and-of-itself is not a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act unless it is the result of another condition. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the most recent case, Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority, in June 2019.

However, the Washington State Court cited its own disability law as part of the Washington Law Against Discrimination, ruling obesity can be considered a disability because it, alone, is a physiological disorder the medical community recognizes as a “primary disease.”

The case, Taylor v. Burlington N. R.R. Holdings Inc.includes Casey Taylor, who applied to be an electronic technician with the BNSF Railway Company. The company offered him the job on the condition that he completed a medical history questionnaire and underwent a physical exam. The exam determined he met the physical requirements for the position. He was referred to the company’s chief medical examiner because he was overweight. BNSF revoked Taylor’s employment offer, “due to significant health and safety risks associated with extreme obesity.”

Though the federal government is unlikely to change its mind on what constitutes as a disability, other avenues can likely also be used against workplace discrimination based on weight. For example, state workplace anti-bullying legislation can apply. Others have cited the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 — which protects against workplace discrimination on the basis of a person’s genetics — as another source of protection for obese employees.

The Washington Supreme Court’s decision will affect employers in state, who will have to look into their policies regarding physical examinations or medical questionnaires during the hiring process and determine how to proceed with issues of obesity. They should also review and possibly amend workplace anti-harassment policies to make sure they protect against bullying and mistreatment on the basis of obesity.

Related Story: American Medical Association Supports Transgender Rights in Supreme Court Filing

Latest News

5 Biggest News Stories of the Week: October 6

As the saying goes, the news never stops — but there’s a lot of it out there, and all of it doesn’t always pertain to our readers. In this weekly news roundup, we’ll cover the top news stories that matter most to our diversity focused audience. 1. The Dollar Divide…

WOCA 2022 Research: How to Improve Representation of Women of Color in the Workplace 

Capital One and DiversityInc shared the results of their collaborative research report on women of color in the workplace at the 2022 annual Women of Color and Their Allies event held in Louisville on Sept. 21 in conjunction with Humana. Dr. Chris Parker, Head of Research & Data, DiversityInc, confirmed…

WOCA 2022: Executive Leaders Share Stories of Allyship for Women of Color

One of the best indicators of an organization’s success around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is leadership accountability for DEI. At our 2022 Women of Color and Their Allies event, DiversityInc’s Head of Strategic Partnerships, Anita Ricketts, was joined on stage by leaders who are holding themselves and their contemporaries…

The Dollar Divide

Too Poor to Die: The Rising Cost of Funerals 

Death is expensive.  For more than two decades, I have extensively written and reported about money-related content and even I was surprised at the cost of my mother’s funeral.  The median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial is approximately $7,848. That doesn’t include the cost of the…