Obesity May Fall under Disability Discrimination Protection in the EU

London, 30 December 2014
On 18 December 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a preliminary ruling in a case of alleged discrimination on grounds of obesity, referred to it by a Danish court. Finding that no provisions of the EU Treaty nor of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU provided protection from discrimination on grounds of obesity as such, the Court nevertheless went on to clarify that prohibition of disability discrimination under EU Law might be relevant in some cases as some individuals with obesity might have a “disability” under EU Law.

The case was brought to the consideration of the CJEU by the retten i Kolding (District Court of Kolding), Denmark. The District Court was considering a case brought to it on behalf of Mr Kaltoft, who was dismissed in 2010 by the municipality which had employed him as a childminder for the previous 15 years. Throughout the duration of his contract, Mr Kaltoft was obese, as defined by the World Health Organization. The decision to dismiss was apparently made “following a specific assessment on the basis of a decline in the number of children, thus that of the workload, having severe financial implications on the childminding service and on its organisation”. However, reasons for why Mr Kaltoft in particular was the childminder chosen to be dismissed were not given and he suspected it was because of his obesity.  
The CJEU stated that: 
  • EU Law did not prohibit discrimination on grounds of obesity. 
  • “Disability” within the meaning of the directive must be understood as referring to a limitation which results in particular from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers. 
  • Obesity may be a disability where the above definition is satisfied. This may be the case, in particular, if the obesity of the worker hinders his or her effective participation on account of reduced mobility or the onset of medical conditions preventing that person from carrying out work or causing discomfort when exercising professional activity.
The CJEU further stated that it was for the Danish Court to determine whether Mr Kaltoft had a disability on the basis of the above definition. 
The Equal Rights Trust welcomes the CJEU’s reiteration of the fact that the causes behind impairments which result in a person being considered to have a “disability” under EU law do not have a bearing on whether or not that determination is made and that obesity may amount to a disability where the elements of the definition of “disability” are present. However, the Equal Rights Trust notes that this means that there continues to be no protection under discrimination law from the stigma and prejudice many people face in the workplace as a result of their obesity and urges all employers to take measures to tackle ill-treatment based on such stigma. 
To read the Trust’s case summary click here
To read the CJEU ruling click here.