[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Thursday that morbid obesity can be considered a disability under the Equal Treatment in Employment Directive [text] if the employee is prevented from fully participating in professional life because of his or her weight. The case arose from the Retten i Kolding [official website], a Danish court, where there was uncertainty on how to rule in the case of a fired child care provider who claimed his termination was a cause of his inability to perform because of his weight. The Danish court then posed two questions to the ECJ: whether the EU Treaty and Charter contains an independent prohibition on weight-based discrimination, and whether obesity can be classified as a disability, and as such, fall under the Equal Treatment in Employment Directive. With respect to the first question, the ECJ found that there was no stand-alone prohibition. In responding to the second question, the court noted that a disability implies “limitations which result from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.” The court found that a morbidly obese person could be classified as disabled. The court, stressing their commitment to protecting against all discrimination, stated that it is not necessary that the actual work being performed be hindered in order to see obesity as a disability. As long as an employee is being hindered from “full and effective participation on equal terms with others,” then weight could very well be a disability.
The awareness of disability rights and the prevention of discrimination against the disabled has been a pertinent topic for many years. In September the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] celebrated [JURIST report] Guyana’s ratification of the disability convention, boosting it to 150 signatories. Just last month the US Supreme Court [official website] agreed to hear [JURIST report] the question of whether the Americans with Disabilities Act [official website, text] requires the accommodation of mentally ill and violent suspects in custody by law enforcement.