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Normal Overweight Condition Not a Disability; Severe Obesity Can Be

In Andrews v. State of Ohio, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided that a person who is "normally" overweight is not protected under the disability definition in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The case arose when Ohio adopted a fitness program for state employees containing certain maximum weight limits. Several Ohio highway patrol officers who exceeded the weight limits sued, claiming the state perceived them to be disabled and discriminated against them. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, ruling that the officers failed to properly allege "perceived" physical impairment. (Under the ADA, the term "impairments" does not include physical characteristics such as weight.) The court concluded that the officers' overweight conditions were "normal," and that they did not stem from a mental or psychological disorder. Thus, they did not constitute a disability under ADA protection.

In severe cases, however, an overweight condition may be protected under the ADA's disability definition. Other courts have ruled that a person suffering from "morbid obesity" who feels victim to discrimination may be able to file a legitimate ADA claim. The courts' reasoning in such cases, unlike in Andrews, is that medical experts have concluded that morbid obesity does stem from a mental or physiological disorder, and that such a disorder may be a protected disability under the ADA.

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