The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that obesity discrimination is illegal under its state human rights law, as reported last week by the San Francisco Chronicle. The court’s decision marks an unprecedented step towards recognition of obesity as a protected status under both state and federal antidiscrimination laws.
The Montana Supreme Court made its ruling in response to a certified question from the District Court of Montana on the state’s stance on the issue. The case in question, BNSF Railway Co. v. Feit, had been filed under the Montana Human Rights Act by an applicant who claims he was rejected for a position at a railway company because of his obesity. Eric Feit was offered a conditional offer of employment as a conductor trainee at the company, contingent on his passing a drug screening, physical examination and background check. After passing all these screening tests, the company told him that they would only hire him if he lost 10 percent of his body weight and underwent further physical examinations at his own expense, including s sleeping study.
Feit lost the weight, and took all the required examinations except one. He was unable to take the sleeping study however, which at $1,800 he could not afford. After the company refused to hire him, Feit filed suit against the railway company for discriminating against him because of a physical disability under the Montana Human Rights Act.