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In Melvin Morriss III v. BNSF Railway Co., the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that “for obesity to qualify as a physical impairment — and thus a disability — under the ADA, it must result from an underlying physiological disorder or condition.” Because the plaintiff had not shown this to be the case in his situation, the ADA did not apply.

Morriss happened to be someone whose obesity was not caused by an underlying condition (He did not have diabetes, hypertension, cardiac disease, sleep apnea). Individuals with a physiological condition that leads to obesity, as well as those who have health conditions associated with their obesity are still protected by the ADA.

For ADA-covered employers, the decision in Morriss reaffirms that the act does not apply to those who are simply obese, without an underlying physical impairment. However, the Morriss decision does not create an unfettered right for employers to make employment decisions based on an individual’s weight.

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