THE EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE: OBESITY MAY BE CONSIDERED A DISABLEMENT
The case concerned a child-minder, who had been dismissed due to a general reduction of the number of child-minders in the Municipality of Billund. The employee was severely obese and believed that he had been discriminated against due to his obesity.
The district court requested the European Court of Justice to decide whether a general principle against discrimination due to obesity applies, or whether obesity may be considered a disablement covered by the protection of the Employment Equality Directive.
In 2014, the European Court of Justice stated that no general principle against discrimination due to obesity applies. However, the Court found that obesity could constitute a disablement within the meaning of the directive if the obesity resulted in physical or mental restrictions preventing the person from participating in the professional life on equal terms with other employees.
The Court left it for the national court to verify whether these requirements were fulfilled.
For more information on the EU ruling:
Obesity may be considered a disablement
The European Court of Justice rules that obesity may be considered a handicap
PROBLEMS DUE TO OBESITY WERE NOT CONSIDERED A DISABLEMENT
The district court found that, at the time of the dismissal, the employee's BMI was 54, and the employee was therefore severely obese.
The district court then made an assessment of the effect of the employee's obesity on his professional life. The district court attached importance to the fact that the employee's problems caused by the severe obesity, in particular diabetes, sleep apnoea and high blood pressure, were well-treated. The district court also found that the employee's restricted mobility, shortness of breath, knee pain in connection with long walks or his mental problems due to the obesity did not prevent him from performing his work as a child-minder.
The employee was to prove that he suffered from a disablement at the time of the dismissal. The court found that the employee's problems did not constitute a disablement within the meaning of the Anti-Discrimination Act. The court therefore ruled in favour of the municipality.
It is important to note that the Court of Kolding's ruling does not imply that obesity will never constitute a disablement.
In this specific case, the district court found that the employee's problems due to the obesity were not that restrictive on the employee's participation in the professional life that the obesity could be characterised as a disablement. However, in other situations, severe obesity may result in other problems, which, in connection with other tasks, may imply that the obesity will be considered a disablement.
It is still unclear whether FOA will appeal against the ruling on behalf of the employee and bring action before the High Court. Taking into consideration the fundamental nature of the case and the press coverage, the ruling is likely to be appealed against.