Obese Corrections Officer Loses ADA Claim

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This article appears in the April issue of our monthly newsletter, Public Safety Labor News.

For five months in 2006, Charles Lescoe was a corrections officer for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in Frackville. At the time of his employment and resignation, Lescoe weighed approximately 300 pounds and was 5’ 7” tall.

To obtain employment at the DOC, Lescoe passed a number of medical and physical tests. He also participated in a five-week long training academy operated by the DOC, which instructed classes about the policies and procedures for working at a DOC facility.

Lescoe began working as a full-time corrections trainee in March 2006. Although Lescoe’s first performance evaluation was satisfactory, he received an overall rating of “needs improvement” for May and June and an unsatisfactory rating for the month of July. The record shows that Mr. Lescoe received numerous “fact-findings,” or disciplinary write-ups, for failing to perform his duties in accordance with established procedures.

Due to his obesity, Lescoe has mild lower back and foot pain. Initially, Lescoe said he did not require any assistance or special exceptions due to his weight because he was permitted to sit. Later, he was told that trainees were not permitted to use the chairs. Lescoe alleged that during his employment at SCI-Frackville, he was the subject of jokes and comments about his weight, the size of his belly, and not being able to see his groin area. Lescoe testified that he tried reporting the harassment to his supervisor, but he was told to try and work things out on his own.

Lescoe experienced anxiety and emotional distress due to his work environment but never sought any treatment. After he resigned from the DOC, Lescoe saw a doctor for problems related to his weight and his medical records state that he is morbidly obese.

A federal court rejected Lescoe’s claim that he was discriminated against in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. To establish coverage under the ADA an employee must demonstrate that (1) he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) he has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination.

Lescoe contended that due to his obesity, his lower back and feet become painful after standing for long periods, his employer saw him as disabled, and he was discriminated against and faced great hostility from fellow co-workers. The problem, the Court found, is that “Lescoe failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case that he was a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA. Although this Court has not definitively reached a position regarding whether obesity is a disability under the ADA that limits a major life activity, Lescoe did not establish any major life activities that were adversely affected by his weight. He passed numerous medical and physical exams to obtain the position as well as a five-week training program.

“Moreover, Lescoe must further show that the limitation on the major life activity is substantial. Lescoe has also failed to allege that his weight is the result of a physiological disorder.”

Lescoe v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections – SCI Frackville, 2012 WL 505896 (3d Cir. 2012).

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