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Man Fired for Being Obese Receives $55,000 Settlement

In October 2009, Ronald Kratz II was fired from his job for being morbidly obese. Kratz, 42, had worked at BAE Systems Inc. since 1994. He claims that he had always received good reviews and was surprised when he was suddenly fired from his job as a materials handler at BAE Systems because he was obese.

BAE Failed to Accommodate Kratz BAE Systems is a military vehicle manufacturing company that is based in Virginia. Kratz weighed as much as 680 pounds when he worked at BAE’s manufacturing location in Houston. He insists that his weight did not interfere with his ability to perform his job. He claims that approximately 90 percent of his job involves sitting and typing at a computer. His other job functions included counting products and occasionally driving a forklift.

The forklift’s seatbelts were inadequate to secure Kratz. Although he asked for a seatbelt extender, he never received one. Kratz was instructed to wear the seatbelt despite the fact that it did not fit him. He was fired from his job two weeks after requesting the seatbelt extender. An investigation by the EEOC found that other BAE Systems employees drove the forklifts without seatbelts.

Kratz claims that his termination was unexpected and that the human resources official informed him that he could no longer perform his job because of his weight. Although Kratz asked if it would be possible to be transferred into another position, the human resources representative told him transfer was not an option.

Kratz has not been able to secure a new job after the termination. His unemployment benefits ran out in 2011.

EEOC and BAE Systems Reach Settlement The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against BAE Systems on Kratz’ behalf, alleging that the company failed to accommodate him as provided for under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC said that the company discriminated against Katz based on his disability, morbid obesity.

In 2008, the ADA was amended to broaden the types of impairments that are covered under the law. The law also expended an employer’s obligations to seek out reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Morbid obesity is considered a disability under the ADA.

According to the EEOC, Kratz was qualified to perform the essential functions of his job, which paid $21 per hour. The federal agency accused BAE Systems of violating the ADA by: failing to accommodate Kratz’ disability, firing him because of his disability, and depriving him of economic opportunities.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC demanded back wages, compensatory damages and punitive damages. They insisted that Kratz was qualified to perform his essential job functions with reasonable accommodation.

In the settlement, BAE Systems agreed to pay Kratz $55,000 and provide him with six months of outplacement services. The settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge Gray Miller of Houston, Texas. The agreement with the EEOC also requires the company to train the company’s managers and human resources officials on matters involving equal employment compliance. The training will include their responsibility to accommodate disabled job applicants and employees.

Stephanie Serkoshian, a BAE spokeswoman from Arlington, Virginia, stated that she does not believe the company was guilty of any wrongdoing. However, she stated that BAE Systems is glad to have reached “an amicable resolution to the lawsuit.”

Byline

This article was written for Patton Law Practice, a firm with extensive medical malpractice law experience.