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Can an obese person qualify as being disabled under the Equality Act?

In a recent case in the European Court of Justice, FOA (Kaltoft) v Billund, the Court has held that an obese person can be deemed disabled and thus have the benefit of the legislation. However, discrimination on the grounds of obesity (if it is not a disability) is not itself unlawful.

Mr Kaltoft was a clinically-obese child minder for a local council in Denmark. He was dismissed due to redundancy. In his claim he alleged that obesity was a factor in his selection for redundancy. The District Court in Denmark referred four questions on obesity to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.

The ECJ held that in the event that “under given circumstances, ‘obesity’ entails a limitation which results in particular from physical, mental or psychological impairments that in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation is a long-term one”, it could be a disability. The origin of the disability, or contribution to it, were irrelevant.

It is up to the member states to decide on each specific case according to its unique facts.

Rachel O'Connell, Solicitor at Just Employment SolicitorsRachel O’Connell, Director & Solicitor at Just Employment Ltd

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