Capital One Unlawfully Fired Obese Manager, Lawsuit Alleges

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

Capital One violated a federal disability discrimination law by firing a manager whose weight significantly increased after four kidney surgeries, a lawsuit filed Aug. 16 alleges ( Kaptur v. Capital One, N.A. , N.D. Ill., No. 17-05984, complaint filed 8/16/17 ).

Federal appeals courts are split on whether obesity by itself qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the issue in October.

Paul Kaptur worked for Capital One in Illinois as a relationship manager for automobile loan customers. He had kidney surgeries that led to obesity and body odor, he says. When his condition triggered a strong odor, he requested reasonable accommodations such as telework and an office farther away from his co-workers.

Human resources approved these accommodations, but his supervisors denied them, Kaptur says in a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Co-workers and managers also made demeaning comments about his weight, such as telling him to join a “fat farm,” the complaint says. Additionally, Kaptur requested a work chair with no arm rests but never received the chair before his termination, the lawsuit says.

Kaptur brings disability discrimination, retaliation, and failure-to-accommodate claims under the ADA.

Courts Split on Obesity as Disability

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the ADA and issues right-to-sue letters to private plaintiffs, has taken the position that obesity alone is a covered disability under the ADA.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit took a similar stance in a federal Rehabilitation Act case, ruling that obesity itself is a physical impairment involving a person’s metabolic and neurological systems. The Rehabilitation Act’s definition of “disability” is the same as the ADA’s.

The Second, Sixth, and Eighth circuits, however, have held that obesity isn’t covered by the ADA unless it’s linked to a separate physiological disorder.

In his case against Capital One, Kaptur seemingly ties his obesity to his kidney impairment. The Northern District of Illinois sits within the Seventh Circuit, which doesn’t appear to have yet ruled on the issue.

Representatives of Kaptur and Capital One didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s Aug. 17 requests for comment.

Ryan O. Estes of O’Connor O’Connor in Elmhurst, Ill., represents Kaptur. Attorneys haven’t yet entered an appearance for Capital One.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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