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Greenberg v. Bellsouth Telecommunications, Inc.

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
No. 06-15134
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

  1. 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.



These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time.  In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.