Jose Valtierra weighed more than 300 pounds when he was hired as a facility maintenance technician in 2004; by the time he was fired 10 years later he weight more than 370 pounds, according to court documents. In May 2014 his supervisor, noticing Valtierra’s difficulty in walking and use of the elevator instead of the stairs, checked to see whether he’d completed his assignments, finding that he had marked 12 tasks as completed even though he’d left for a vacation the day before, according to the documents.
Confronted about the discrepancy, Valtierra admitted that the work hadn’t been done but said he’d planned to accomplish the assignments after his vacation; later he claimed that Medtronic shouldn’t have assigned so many tasks because it knew he needed accommodations for his weight condition. Medtronic fired him for falsifying the records, prompting a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona alleging that he suffered from a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Arizona court granted summary judgment in favor of Medtronic, finding that obesity is not a disability according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations unless it’s caused by an underlying condition.
Vatierra appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the Arizona court misinterpreted the EEOc’s rules and guidance and that “similarly situated employees were treated differently and the falsified records may have been a pretext for discrimination on the basis of his weight,” according to the documents.
“The district court record does not bear this out. Valtierra stated in his deposition that other employees were late in completing assignments, but he did not know whether any other employees closed out work assignments without completing them. While the record does suggest that two other employees admitted to such misconduct, management was not informed of their actions and never discovered that others had prematurely closed tasks. Thus, Medtronic could not have treated Valtierra differently because there is no evidence Medtronic ever knew of similar misconduct on the part of others,” according to the appeals court’s ruling.
“The EEOC argues morbid obesity is plainly physiological in its effects, and that numerous federal agencies have categorized it as a disease. The agency further contends that Valtierra has raised at least a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether his morbid obesity is an impairment, because his medical records show that several of his bodily systems have been adversely affected,” according to the ruling. “In this case, however, we need not take a definitive stand on the question of whether morbid obesity itself is an ‘impairment’ under the ADA. That is because, even assuming that it is such an impairment, or that Valtierra suffered from a disabling knee condition that the district court could have considered, he would have to show some causal relationship between these impairments and his termination. He is unable to do so. Valtierra admits he closed 12 maintenance assignments as having been completed when he had not done the work. In addition, he had worked for Medtronic for more than ten years and had always weighed in excess of 300 pounds. There is no basis for concluding that he was terminated for any reason other than Medtronic’s stated ground that he falsified records to show he had completed work assignments.”