In a case involving a claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), the Appellate Division rejected a plaintiff’s claim of perceived disability based on obesity because there was no direct or circumstantial evidence that defendants perceived the plaintiff to be disabled due to a medical condition that caused him to be overweight. Dickson v. Community Bus Lines, et al. – N.J. Super. – (App. Div. 2019).
Plaintiff, Corey Dickson, was employed as a bus driver for defendant, Community Bus Lines. He weighed between 500 and 600 pounds and was often subject to comments about his weight. Due to medical issues, he was ultimately placed on a leave of absence.
He filed a Complaint against the defendants alleging a hostile work environment based on his obesity. The trial court dismissed the claim and the Appellate Division affirmed.
The Appellate Division noted that there was no evidence that plaintiff’s obesity was caused by a medical condition. Plaintiff never established through the introduction of expert medical testimony that his obesity was caused by any medical condition, and furthermore the court noted that plaintiff could not prove that defendants “perceived” him as disabled because they presented several awards to him over his tenure with the company.
Finally, even if plaintiff could prove he was disabled within the intent of the statute, the trial court found no merit to plaintiff’s assertion that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because comments about his weight and size from co-workers, while hurtful, were not severe or pervasive enough to alter any conditions of his employment. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court’s analysis.
Finally, the Appellate Division rejected plaintiff’s argument that while he could not prove an actual disability under the statute, his supervisors and co-workers discriminated against him based upon their “perception” that he had a disability because of his obesity. However, obesity alone is not a protected class under the LAD and, therefore, plaintiff’s claim failed.