Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

In the Courts: Am I Disabled?

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

In the Courts: Am I Disabled?

Article excerpt

Am I Disabled? The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as a number of state statutes, protect against employment discrimination on the basis of disability. Under all of these measures, judicial relief depends on demonstrating the presence of a qualifying handicap or disability. Decisions in three recent cases show a range of conditions claimed by employees to merit protection, as well as the legal arguments used by employers to defeat the claims. Under these rulings neither obesity, sexual obsession, nor tobacco smoke allergy amount to disabling conditions protected by law.

In Cassita v. Community Foods Inc., 2 September 1993, the California Supreme Court ruled that allegations of employment discrimination on the basis of weight were not protected under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act unless it was proved that a physiological disorder caused the employee's obesity. According to the court, employer bias against an obese employee was not actionable unless the employee proved the obesity was "a physiological disorder or condition...affecting one or more" of the major body systems. Finding the California law was modeled after the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the court referred approvingly to federal regulations providing that no statutory protection extends to "physical, psychological, environmental, cultural, and economic characteristics" such as "height, weight, or muscle tone... [that] are not the result of a physiological disorder."

A Maine trial court grappled with whether an alleged sexual behavior disorder was a disability under either the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or the Maine Human Rights Act (Winston v. Maine Technical College System, 1 September 1993). The plaintiff, a tenured English instructor, was fired for kissing one of his eighteen-year-old female students after a sexually charged conversation. …

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