Europe’s top court ruled on Thursday that obese people can be considered as disabled, meaning that they can be covered by an EU law barring discrimination at work.
The decision followed a question from a Danish court, which was reviewing a complaint of unfair dismissal brought by Karsten Kaltoft, a child-minder, against a Danish local authority. Kaltoft, who never weighed less than 160 kilogrammes during his employment, argued that his obesity was one of the reasons he lost his job and that this amounted to unlawful discrimination, an allegation the council denied.
The Court of Justice of the European Union was asked to rule on whether EU law forbids discrimination on the grounds of obesity or whether obesity could be considered a disability.
The Luxembourg-based court ruled that EU employment law did not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of obesity, and that the law should not be extended to cover it.
However, the court said that if an employee’s obesity hindered “full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers” then it could be considered a disability.
This, in turn, is covered by anti-discrimination legislation. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, based on 2008 estimates, roughly 23% of European women and 20% of European men were obese.