Montana

Jul 10, 2012 6:33 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News

State supreme court ruling may make obesity a disability

HELENA- A new ruling by the Montana Supreme Court may allow employees to argue obesity should be considered as a disability.

The opinion stems from a case that's been bouncing between the state and federal courts for more than 2 years. In 2009, Eric Feit accused Burlington Northern Santa Fe of discrimination for withdrawing a conditional offer of a job because of his weight.

Feit told the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, BNSF had refused to hire him as a conductor trainee saying he wasn't qualified for a "safety sensitive" position because of the "significant health and safety risks associated with extreme obesity", telling him he needed to lose 10% of his weight.

The labor and industry department ruled in favor of Feit, and the Montana Human Rights Commission upheld the decision.

The BNSF railroad took the matter to U.S. District Court, where Judge Donald Molloy asked the state Supreme Court to review the question.

Now, in a 4-3 decision, the majority said obesity without a "physiological cause" could be considered as "physical or mental impairment" under the state's Human Rights Act. However, the dissenting justices argue the federal law's definition requires a major system of the body to be impacted, and that a "physiological cause" needs to be present before impairment exists.

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