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Obesity and Disability

The Advocate General (AG) has handed down a preliminary ruling in a Danish case concerning a childminder who claimed that his employment with the local council was terminated on account of his obesity and this amounted to discrimination on the grounds of disability (Karsten Kaltoft v the Municipality of Billund).

The AG found that although EU law does not include a general principle prohibiting employers from discriminating on grounds of obesity, obesity can be a disability covered by the protection provided in EU Directive 2000/78/EC, which establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, if, ‘in interaction with various barriers, it hinders full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers’.

In the AG’s opinion, only severe or morbid obesity (i.e. where a person has a body mass index in excess of 40.00) is likely to create limitations, such as problems in mobility, endurance and mood, that would amount to a ‘disability’ for the purposes of the Directive.

An opinion of the AG is not binding on the Court of Justice of the European Union but it is followed in a majority of cases.