Obesity Could Constitute a Disability?

he European Court of Justice ruled earlier today that “obesity can constitute a disability” under certain circumstances for the purposes of equality at work legislation, according to this article by the British Broadcasting Corporation — better known as BBC — and although the ruling is binding across the European Union, it is left up to the national courts to decide if the obesity of someone is severe enough to be classed as a disability.

“Judges said that obesity in itself was not a disability — but if a person had a long-term impairment because of their obesity, then they would be protected by disability legislation.”

The highest court in Europe was asked earlier this year to consider the case of Karsten Kaltoft — a childminder in Denmark who reportedly weighs approximately 353 pounds — who claimed his employment was terminated by his local authority after 15 years of service for being too overweight. A court in Denmark still has yet to assess this case after the ruling was issued by the European Court of Justice earlier today.

Kaltoff reportedly told the BBC about minding children that “I can sit on the floor and play with them, I have no problems like that. I don’t see myself as disabled. It’s not OK just to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly.”

The origin or cause of the disability did not matter to the European Court of Justice — meaning that it is irrelevant whether the person is obese due to a medical condition; or simply because of overeating.

The judgement could mean that employers might be required to provide larger seats, special parking spaces, and other facilities for employees who are considered obese…

…which leads to this question: what if that ruling were extended by courts worldwide; and what if it included overweight people in circumstances other than employment — such as passengers on commercial airplanes?

We have seen the intense debate continue for years pertaining to obese passengers aboard airplanes — such as with this article posted back on August 31, 2014. We have also read countless stories on travelers who are considered disabled and subsequently humiliated, supposedly abused, or allegedly mistreated — and as a stretch of sorts, resort to feigning disability by purposely falsely designating their pets as emotional support animals solely to save money on airfare and have a companion in the main cabin of the aircraft.

Obesity being included as a disability is not a new topic: a class-action lawsuit against Air Canada was approved by a judge in Québec back in 2011, bringing the possibility of those disabled Canadian passengers — including obese people — who had to pay extra airfares for seats on domestic flights between December 5, 2005 and December 5, 2008 to receive compensation.

Currently, obesity is not protected under the law unless it clearly hinders the professional life or employment of a person…

…but could the ruling issued earlier today by the European Court of Justice pave the way for broader rulings in the future — especially those which could affect aspects of travel? For example, would airlines be eventually forced to provide wider seats for obese people? Should a person who is obese be considered disabled?

What are your thoughts?

One thought on “Obesity Could Constitute a Disability?”

  1. JakePB says:

    Airlines offer 1st class seats – one would think that should suffice.

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