Whistleblower Alleges Discrimination, Claims Morbid Obesity is Legal Disability

The Eighth Circuit may reopen the 2013 case of a Kansas man who alleges the BNSF Railway Co. revoked his job offer because he was obese. The man, Melvin A. Morriss III, asserts that per the Americans with Disabilities Act, morbid obesity is a disability and that BNSF’s action was discrimination.

Morriss claims his obesity is not just a physical characteristic, but also rather a physiological disorder. He is appealing the result of his original complaint in which he alleged he was able to pass all tests for the employment position as machinist. Morriss stated that BNSF arranged for him to take a physical and then afterward revoked the job offer.

In response, BNSF stated that Morriss’ morbid obesity was cause for concern because of health and safety risks that could arise from his condition. BNSF asserted that previous court cases have demonstrated that obesity is only considered an impairment if it results from a physiological disorder, and that Morriss failed to show evidence proving his obesity was an impairment.

Morriss argued that BNSF had a mistaken understanding of laws surrounding obesity and impairment, and that recent updates to the American Disabilities Act have changed what constitutes a disability. Morriss also claimed that BNSF must have thought he was impaired otherwise the company would have no justification for pulling the job offer.

Given that approximately one-third of workers in United States are obese, the outcome of Morriss’ appeal can have a significant impact on public policy, business and advocacy. Organizations such as AARP Inc., the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Equal Employment Advisory Council are following the case. In response to the appeal, the Chamber of Commerce has noted that employer liability would be seriously affected should the trial rule in favor of Morriss.

In response to public interest in his claims, Morriss has stated that it would be unjust to let the potential impact of his case on employers influence the outcome of his appeal.

If you believe you have been wrongfully discriminated against, meet with Steve Kardell at Whistleblower Law for Managers today.