As we previously reported here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the Washington Supreme Court have been wrestling with whether obesity qualifies as a disability under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”).
The dispute involves an applicant for a position with a railway company who sued in 2010, alleging that the company unlawfully refused to hire him in violation of the WLAD because of his obesity. Six years later, a federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the railway company, holding that because the applicant could not prove that his obesity was caused by a physiological condition or disorder or that the employer perceived his obesity as stemming from such a source, his obesity discrimination claim under state law could not proceed. The applicant appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that whether obesity unrelated to any physiological condition or disease is a disability was an unresolved issue under state law, and that rather than decide the issue, it certified the question to the Washington Supreme Court to decide. After considering the plain language of the WLAD, along with publications from the medical community, the Washington Supreme Court held last year that “obesity always qualifies as an impairment” under the plain language of the WLAD, and therefore, it is unlawful for employers in Washington to discriminate against otherwise qualified applicants because the employer perceives them to be obese. Continue Reading