Sixth Circuit Holds That Obesity is Not a Disability as Defined by the ADA

On September 14, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that morbid obesity, unless caused by a physiological disorder or condition, was not a defined disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Title I of the ADA was intended to eliminate disability discrimination in employment. The Act prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability regarding job application procedures, hiring, advancement, discharge, compensation, training or other terms or conditions of employment. An employee is disabled if he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. When the major life activity from which the employee claims disability is “work itself,” the employee must demonstrate that he was unable to work in a broad class of jobs.

Stephen Grindle was hired in 1990 by Watkins Motor Lines as a driver/dock worker. Sixty-five percent of his time was spent loading and unloading freight. The job description required climbing, kneeling, bending, stooping, balancing, reaching and heavy lifting. When he was hired in 1990, Grindle weighed 345 pounds. During employment, his weight fluctuated between 340 and 450 pounds. In 1995, he injured his knee descending a ladder at work. Following a leave of absence, he was examined by the employer’s doctor, who noted that Grindle could duck and squat, but was “short of breath after a few steps.” The doctor noted Grindle’s weight of 405 weight and determined Grindle could not safely perform the job requirements. Grindle was terminated when he was unable to return to work after 180 days.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission initiated a claim on Grindle’s behalf. They argued that Grindle was not disabled, but wrongfully regarded as such by the employer (i.e., Grindle had an actual impairment, morbid obesity, that the employer wrongfully believed affected his ability to do the job). Watkins Motor Lines concluded that Grindle’s morbid obesity affected his ability to do the job. Thus, the Court was left to determine whether Grindle’s morbid obesity was an ADA impairment.

The central purpose of the ADA is to prevent disability discrimination, not discrimination in general. Extending the ADA to physical characteristics would exceed that purpose of the Act and create a catch-all cause of action for discrimination based on appearance, size and every other physical characteristic. Thus, consistent with the definitions found in the statute, the Court ruled that obesity, even morbid obesity, was not a defined disability unless it was caused by a physiological disorder or condition. Employers may continue to select and classify employees based on job-related physical characteristics, as long as the physical characteristic is not a physical impairment as defined by the Act.

This case demonstrates the Sixth Circuit’s continued strict statutory construction of the ADA. The Court previously rejected efforts to expand the definitions of employment disability discrimination by rejecting arguments that prohibits the provision of unequal or separate benefits by place of public accommodation to the employment setting. There is currently a split among the Circuit Courts regarding the application of Title II of the ADA, which prohibits the provision of benefits, services or programs by a public entity to the employment setting. It is anticipated the Sixth Circuit will resolve this dispute, applying the same strict statutory construction to conclude that Title I alone defines and applies to employment disability discrimination.

Timothy Ferrand is a partner in our Clinton Township office where he concentrates his practice on municipal law, employment and labor law, litigation, and law enforcement. He may be reached at (586) 228-5600 or tferrand@cmda-law.com.

 

Attorneys Present on Strategies Involved in Defending Police Cases

Attorneys Greg Grant and Andrew Brege recently gave a presentation titled, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Litigation,” at the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority’s Annual Joint Committee Meeting in Bay City. Mr. Brege and Mr. Grant discussed strategies and challenges involved in defending police cases in state and federal courts.

If your police department is interested in a similar presentation, please contact Mr. Grant in our Traverse City office at (231) 922-1888 or ggrant@cmda-law.com or Mr. Brege in our Grand Rapids office at (616) 975-7470 or abrege@cmda-law.com.

Why Property Managers are Not the Enemy: A Value Proposition

Why Property Managers Are Not the Enemy: A Value Proposition

Association Boards, attorneys, accountants, contractors, consultants and, yes, even property managers are integral to the proper function and operation of community associations.  Association Boards hire a plethora of services and those individuals and companies should have the same goal: to provide valueto the Association.  All too often, a Board may fall into an adversarial and confrontational relationship with those companies providing essential services, particularly its property manager.  In my experience living in a condominium, the property manager is the first line of defense for an Association, the first phone call for conflict resolution and typically the most knowledgeable individual regarding the history of the Association.

By no means am I suggesting that property managers are perfect: no attorney, accountant, contractor or consultant is perfect.  However, best practices require a Board to hire competent legal counsel, competent accounting professionals, competent contractors, competent consultants and competent property management services.  Inevitably, we are all human, mistakes will be made, conflicts will arise and even sometimes a transition from one service provider to another may become necessary.  However, when an issue arises between a property manager and a Board, there are various approaches to conflict resolution.

The Adversarial Approach

One approach a Board may utilize is the adversarial approach whereby the Board takes a hardline stand against a property manager and views the services of the property manager as only an expendable or replaceable commodity.  However, the question becomes “Is that the best method for managing the relationship between the Association and the property manager?”  All too often, minor problems between an Association and its property manager result in animosity, anger, frustration and ultimately unhappiness.  Moreover, the property manager may justifiably feel underappreciated or undervalued.  Such circumstances are not conducive to a healthy, professional relationship.  In addition, this approach may lead to certain vested interests attempting to exploit any conflicts between a property manager and its Association.

The Symbiotic Approach

Another approach to conflict resolution takes a less adversarial methodology and instead focuses on best value, desired outcomes, cooperative conflict resolution and optimal conclusions.  In essence, this approach views the role of the property manager, attorney, accountant, contractor, consultant and Board as a symbiotic relationship where everyone is acting in furtherance of the best interests of the Association and not each actor’s individual gain.  A healthy, open relationship—particularly between the property manager and the Board—reduces animosity and may resolve conflicts economically and efficiently.  In addition, the symbiotic approach fosters long term problem-solving instead of short term cycling of service providers.

As a litigator, I know from experience that all problems cannot be resolved amicably.  However, the property manager is oftentimes integral to the effective resolution of the Association’s matters and there is value in addressing issues cooperatively, amicably and efficiently.  As we approach Thanksgiving, I plan on thanking my property manager.  Will you?

Joe Wloszek is an attorney with the law firm of Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C. where he focuses his practice on dispute avoidance, condominium law, commercial litigation, commercial real estate, large contractual disputes, and title litigation. He has extensive litigation and trial experience in state and federal courts involving commercial litigation issues and real estate matters. He can be reached at (734) 261-2400 or jwloszek@cmda-law.com.