Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
September 10, 2007
Keywords: obesity, qualified individual, substantial limitation
Facts of the Case
Mr. Greenberg was employed as a service technician, responsible for the installation and maintenance of telephone services. As a measure to avoid employee injury on the job, his employer BellSouth had a safe load limit policy that complied with weight limits directed by equipment manufacturers. The policy required all employees that used certain equipment, such as ladders, bucket trucks, and gaffs, to weigh no more than 300 pounds. A service technician’s tool belt with standard tools weighs 25 pounds, thus, limiting an employee to no more than 275 pounds.
Mr. Greenberg is obese, weighing approximately 325 pounds, and has diabetes, hypertension and hypothyroidism. Previously he tried to lose weight without lasting success. A few times, he had become light-headed at work, and on one occasion experienced a fainting spell that required hospitalization. Before BellSouth strictly enforced the safe load limit policy, Mr. Greenberg’s supervisor would “hand-pick” his job assignments to avoid issues with his weight. BellSouth mandated full enforcement of the policy, so Mr. Greenberg was instructed by his supervisor to lose weight. His supervisor put him on a weight loss timetable, but 6 months later he had not lost weight. BellSouth terminated Mr. Greenberg on February 15, 2005.
Issue of the Case
- Whether Mr. Greenberg is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA, and was terminated from employment due to his disability.
Arguments & Analysis
1. Mr. Greenberg contended BellSouth terminated him on the basis of his being disabled by obesity in violation of the ADA, and that he failed to lose weight due to medical complications.
He did not specifically identify a major life activity in which he is substantially limited. BellSouth denied it unlawfully terminated the plaintiff, and argued Mr. Greenberg had not established he was a qualified individual with a disability. BellSouth argued further that no physician had restricted Mr. Greenberg’s physical activities; his diabetes, hypertension and hypothyroidism were controlled by medications; and he did not have substantial limitations in a major life activity.
2. The court’s decision turned on whether Mr. Greenberg’s obesity substantially limited him in a major life activity.
The court determined his obesity was not substantially limiting, noting Mr. Greenberg’s testimony that he had no problem bathing and dressing himself and performing household chores. Although he testified he had some difficulties taking care of himself, he said it was due to his diabetes, which is controlled by medication, not his obesity. Mr. Greenberg also testified he was physically able to walk, albeit “apprehensive about distances.”
The court held Mr. Greenberg was not substantially limited in a major life activity, and thus was not a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA. As such, his termination was determined lawful.
- Greenberg v. Bellsouth Telecommunications, Inc. [PDF file]
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