The Advocate General (the top legal counsel of the European Court of Justice (ECJ)) has given his opinion on whether obesity is a disability for the purposes of EU discrimination law in the case of Karltoft v Municipality of Billund (C-354/13).
Mr Karltoft worked as a child-minder in Denmark. He weighed approximately 350 pounds and was medically considered morbidly obese. His employer dismissed him after 15 years' service, claiming that he could no longer perform his day to day duties (such as tying a child's shoelaces). He brought a discrimination claim in a Danish court, alleging that he was dismissed because he was obese. The Danish court referred two questions to the ECJ: (i) whether there is a free-standing prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of obesity; and (ii) whether obesity is of itself a disability. The Advocate General's opinion on the first question is that there is no such free-standing prohibition. On the second question, his view is that obesity of itself is not a disability; however, where the obesity is so extreme that it hinders a person's full and effective participation in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, then it could amount to a disability, in which case that person would be protected by EU disability discrimination law.
Although this opinion is not binding, it is likely that it will be followed by the ECJ (whose ruling is expected in the next 4-6 months). If it is, this could have a significant impact on the EU-wide obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled employees, particularly in light of the increasing levels of obesity in Europe.