Is obesity a disability? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says it is. The agency filed suit on behalf of a woman fired for being overweight, claiming violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The plaintiff, Lisa Harrison, worked for Resources for Human Development Inc. (RHD) in New Orleans as a prevention/intervention specialist for young children whose mothers were undergoing addiction treatment. The suit alleges that Harrison was unfairly terminated because her size didn't prevent her from performing the essential functions of her position, though RHD perceived limitations based on her obesity.
Though Harrison passed away before the suit was filed, the EEOC is pressing forward with the case and Harrison's estate is representing her interests. The EEOC says the termination decision was discriminatory because it was based on myths and stereotypes, not on ability to perform the job.
RHD denies the claims, however, stressing that as a nonprofit serving many individuals with disabilities, they are attuned to and fight against discriminatory practices in the work they do across the country.
In a statement, RHD said it "emphatically and categorically denies that it discriminated against Lisa Harrison on the basis of her obesity" and looks forward to being fully exonerated of the claims. RHD calls the charges "baseless" and says it intends to defend itself, should the EEOC continue to the pursue them. RHD says it is disappointed by the EEOC's decision to file the action without "conducting an investigation or allowing RHD to demonstrate the wrongness of the EEOC's position."