Obese Employees Potentially Protected by California FEHA


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It is in 2017 that the Court of Appeal in California pushes through protections for obese workers as a disability due to the physical cause and inability to perform certain actions with specific industries of work. This will require many different places of work to amend policies and action when confronted with safeguards for larger men and women.

It was through a court case in 2017 that a plaintiff filed suit against the Berkeley Tennis Club. She received a diagnosis of severely obese weighing over 300 pounds and at a short height. She worked for the Club since 1997, and her position changed multiple times before she encountered an issue with the employment. However, during the time at the Club, she did receive positive reviews for her work, bonuses based on merit and raises over time. It was not until 2012 that a new manager changed the uniform policy which caused the issue. During her issues with the new manager, it became apparent that her issue evolved into a disability which prompted protections by law.

The Ongoing Battle

The plaintiff in this specific case received statements of a negative nature due to her weight, asked to undergo weight-loss surgery and suffered self-esteem issues and a lack of food because of the new employee. This lead to a lack of hours and less pay. The senior employee suffered an injury of an emotional and psychological manner through the taunts and comments of the other person. He also embarrassed her, humiliated her and cost her monetarily from the lack of work just because of her weight. Through her struggle, she managed to hire a lawyer and seek restitution from the company.

Pursuing a Case for Protection

Some employees have difficulty in keeping weight off even when taking the measures necessary to maintain health. However, pursuing a case against an employer becomes less difficult when the manager or other workers are engaging in behavior that attacks the personís self-esteem, self-worth and self-image. By terrorizing the person emotionally, the employee may have recourse to a hostile workplace or harassment. Discrimination due to issues of weight is possible grounds for a civil suit. The individual may need to hire a lawyer, so the matter becomes clearer in how to pursue the case. The legal professional may provide guidance and explain what to do next.

The Proposed Protection

Through harassment, discrimination and trauma at work, the individual may proceed to litigation. However, the California Supreme Court does hold after this trial that weight is a protected disability through FEHA when there is sufficient medical evidence which explains the condition through physiological issues that may limit the major life activity of the person. This may only happen in California in 2017, but it may spread if the Americans with Disabilities Act remains active to support those in the country with a disability. However, citing the ruling could lead to multiple courtsí involvement to affirm a decision or reverse one to ensure the individual receives the appropriate protections.

Failure of the Company

When such a suit arises, it is important to protect the rights of the individual employee. Discrimination and harassment are not legal actions within a company, and when engaged in by a manager, the business could face severe consequences to include the loss of the manager instigating the activity. Once weight issues are part of the protections in place for disability, someone with a medically obese condition is safe while at work from possible termination due to the disability itself. However, when a hostile workplace exists for the individual, he or she may have a claim with enough evidence to bury the company.

If the company does not provide accommodations for the disability to include necessary clothing in the size of the employee, the situation may escalate to a legal matter. When protected as through FEHA, or the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the company must provide any necessary accommodation that is reasonable. Overextending the company in this manner is often outside the scope of protection. The employee may need to provide medical documentation that a disability exists that is not in the usual description with the ADA.

Legal Precedent

With the addition of obesity to the ADA and FEHA protections, a company must accommodate and ensure the protection of the disability of weight. It is possible that legal representation may pursue legal action and compensation for the lack of work, impact to income and pain and suffering from the incident.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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