The Washington Supreme Court held on July 11, 2019 in Taylor v. BNSF Railroad Holdings Inc., in answer to a certified question from the Ninth Circuit, that obesity always qualifies as an impairment under the Washington Law against Discrimination (“WLAD”). Judge Robart had dismissed the case because Taylor could not prove either his obesity was caused by an independent physiological condition or disorder, or that BNSF perceived his obesity as having such a cause.
The Justices unanimously rejected the independent physiological cause requirement, which most federal courts have imposed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The Court also held (1) the legislature intended to adopt a broad definition of disability; (2) the legislature expressly rejected the idea the ADA should be used to constrain the protections offered under the WLAD; and (3) the Human Rights Commission regulation defining “disability,” WAC 162-22-020(2)(c), is entitled to “great weight” under principles of administrative deference.
Justice Yu, joined by Justice McCloud, disagreed that obesity always qualifies as an impairment. They called for a case by case determination. They agreed, however, that Taylor qualified as a person with a disability under the WLAD. The decision is available HERE.
WELA spearheaded the effort to have the Justices adopt a categorical rule that obesity is always an impairment. Mike Subit, Jeff Needle, and Jillian Cutler drafted WELA’s amicus brief and Mike argued before the Court. You can view WELA’s Amicus brief HERE.