Employers may not refuse to hire an obese person who otherwise is qualified for the job, the Supreme Court of Washington State ruled in July. The 7-2 decision stated that obesity is covered by the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which protects employees with disabilities.
“Because obesity qualifies as an impairment under the plain language of our statute, it is illegal for employers in Washington to refuse to hire qualified potential employees because the employer perceives them to be obese,” stated the majority opinion.
The opinion on state law was requested by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering a civil suit brought by Casey Taylor. He sued the BNSF Railway Company after it told him the company did not hire anyone who had a body mass index over 35. He was 5-foot-6 and 256 pounds at the time, and a medical exam placed his body mass index in the severely obese range of 41.3. He had applied to be an electronic technician.
Taylor’s case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in Seattle who ruled that obesity is not a disability under Washington State law unless it is caused by a separate physiological disorder.
The state court’s majority opinion ruled that state law is broader than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The dissenting minority opinion argued that the majority’s ruling was too broad and could extend disability protections to people who are not disabled.