Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Definition of Disability - Obesity and Functional Overlay

[Thanks to Paul Smith of Broadway House Chambers for preparing this case summary]
In considering whether a person is disabled, should the focus be upon the cause of the person's symptoms or upon their effect?

Their effect, says the EAT in Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing Ltd.

This case concerned the thorny, and increasingly common, issue of how obesity should be treated for the purpose of disability discrimination. The appellant weighed 137kg (over 21st) and suffered from a wide range of symptoms associated with obesity. The employment tribunal concluded that he was not 'disabled' within the legal definition on the basis that the medical evidence revealed no physical or mental cause of the symptoms, other than obesity.

Rejecting that approach, the EAT (Langstaff P presiding) stated that in such cases the first question is whether or not the individual has an impairment. The second is whether it is physical or mental. The cause is only relevant insofar as it remains open to a tribunal, on the evidence, to find that a person does not suffer from a disability if it has no recognised cause. The President refused to accept that obesity is a disability it its own right, but stated that it may make it more likely that someone is disabled.

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