On July 26, 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became effective two years later. Because the ADA lacked a list of all the disabilities it covered, courts have considered obesity and morbid obesity to be disabilities in some cases but not in others, notwithstanding the legislation’s desire for clarity and consistency in eliminating discrimination against the individuals with disabilities.
There seems to be a trend towards presuming that obesity is a matter of personal responsibility rather than a protected disability. The most recent developments in obesity jurisprudence have held that morbid obesity—absent evidence of physiological causation—was not an ADA physical impairment, impliedly concluding that a claimant whose disability is the result of personal choices rather than a physiological disorder is not "disabled" for purpose of the ADA. This trend was recently confirmed by the Sixth Circuit’s decision in EEOC v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc., in which the court determined that an employee’s morbid obesity was not a "physical impairment" and not a disability under the ADA because he failed to show that his morbid obesity was "the result of a physiological condition."
This note focuses particularly on the facts and reasoning in Watkins, as it marks a significant shift in the trend towards personal responsibility. The note proposes several potential responses to and impacts of recent trends in obesity jurisprudence.
Employment & Disability Law—Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—The Weight of Personal Responsibility: Obesity, Causation, and Protected Physical Impairments,
30 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 381
Available at: https://lawrepository.ualr.edu/lawreview/vol30/iss2/15