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Do businesses have to worry about plus-size patron ADA claims?

On Behalf of | Feb 19, 2024 | ADA |

Multiple parties might allege that a business has not properly adhered to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sometimes, complaints come from employees. Other times, members of the public allege that they could not access a business because of a lack of proper accommodations.

There are seemingly endless different maladies that could potentially require accommodations and support in a business setting for either workers or consumers. For years, obesity has been a bit of a legal gray area for disability issues. Does a business have to worry about people making ADA claims over the width of its doorways or how much weight its furniture can hold?

Obesity is not always a qualifying condition for workers

For a disabling medical condition to qualify for ADA protections, it must meet certain standards. Just a few years ago, there was an important court ruling on obesity claims by workers under the ADA.

The courts found that for the ADA to apply, there must be some significant underlying health condition contributing to or causing the worker’s obesity. For example, someone with a diagnosed mental health issue, such as binge eating disorder, could require workplace accommodations for obesity. Someone with no such diagnosis may not be in a position to expect accommodations from their employers.

Accommodating obese customers is just part of doing business

There is little question that in recent years the trend in the United States has been for people to get bigger. The average waste size and weight for American citizens has slowly but steadily trended upward for decades.

While there have not yet been any major legal cases brought by consumers under the ADA for obesity-related discrimination, the chances of such lawsuits occurring in the future are likely. With more Americans falling into the obese and morbidly obese categories every year, it simply makes sense for businesses that provide services and make their spaces open to the public to accommodate plus-size individuals.

Some airlines, for example, have replaced policies requiring obese patrons to buy a second seat with new rules that give them a second seat for free. Businesses may find that by making doorways and furniture accessible to those with mobility limitations, such as wheelchair users, they also help make those same amenities accessible to those who are obese.

Understanding how current population trends could affect business liability may benefit those eager to protect their organization from expensive ADA lawsuits.