COTW #34 - Obesity is always an impairment under Washington State disability discrimination statute

Casey Taylor sued the employer under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) for refusing to hire him due to his obesity. After the case was removed to federal district court, it granted summary judgment to the employer. On appeal to the 9th Circuit, that court certified to the state Supreme Court the question of when obesity qualifies as an impairment under WLAD. The state Supreme Court accepted certification and held that obesity always qualifies as an impairment under WLAD. Taylor v. BNSF Railway (Washington 07/11/2019) [PDF].

Worth repeating: Always qualifies as an impairment

The employer refused to hire Taylor, who had a BMI of 41, which meets the technical definition of severe obesity, because it had a policy of not hiring people with BMIs exceeding 35. The district court granted summary judgment to the employer based on federal cases holding obesity is not a disability unless it results from a separate, underlying physiological disorder.

The state Supreme Court answered the certified question by stating obesity is always an impairment under the plain language of WLAD because it is a physiological condition affecting one or more body systems. The court expressly rejected federal court treatment of obesity under the ADA on the basis WLAD is broader than the ADA and offers its own independent protections to employees.

This is Washington State. Most other places require a showing that obesity is a disability only if it results from a separate, underlying physiological disorder.