Seventh Circuit weighs whether obesity should be included under ADA

February 26, 2019

Mark Schremmer


A former bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to allow a jury to hear his lawsuit that alleged he was wrongfully terminated because he is obese.

In a reply brief filed on Feb. 22, attorneys for Mark Richardson argued that a jury should have the opportunity to find that his extreme obesity is an impairment because the Amendments Act of 2008 “restored the Americans with Disabilities Act’s broad scope of protection.” According to court documents, Richardson is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 594 pounds. He has a BMI of 82.8. The “normal” range for BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.

“Moreover, a jury could find that CTA took adverse action against Mark because of his extreme obesity,” the reply brief stated. “CTA had knowledge of Mark’s weight and extreme obesity, and a jury could find … that Mark could safely operate a CTA bus.”

The Transit Authority argued that obesity must result from a physiological disorder to constitute a disability under the ADA. CTA also said there is no proof Richardson was fired because of his obesity.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush, clarified and broadened the definition of “disability” and the number of people protected under the ADA.

A district court previously found that obesity did not qualify as an impairment and dismissed Richardson’s lawsuit. Richardson is asking the Seventh Circuit to overturn the district court’s ruling.

“The district court should not have demanded an extensive analysis on whether Mark’s extreme obesity met the definition of an impairment,” the reply brief stated. “Rather, the district court should have focused on whether CTA discriminated against Mark because of his extreme obesity.”

Richardson’s attorneys said the district court erred in saying that all nonphysiologically obese individuals are excluded from the ADA “regardless of how extreme their weight is and regardless of how extreme the evidence is that their employers perceive their weight as disabling because of mistaken beliefs, fears, myths or prejudice.”

According to Richardson, his instructor at CTA believed he could not safely operate a bus even though he had been doing so for seven years. The instructor allegedly told Richardson, “If you would lose 30 pounds, you probably would be able to see your d**k,” and that he “looked like a sardine in a can when he was sitting in the driver’s seat.”

The reply brief stated that Richardson hadn’t had a chargeable accident since 2003.

“CTA did not take adverse action against Mark because he engaged in a safety violation. It did so because it assumed, based on the instructors’ myths and fears about Mark’s extreme obesity, that he would not able to safely operate the bus, despite the fact that he had been doing so for years.”