EU court adviser says extreme obesity can be disability at work


A European Union law barring job discrimination against the disabled may apply to extremely obese people, an adviser to Europe’s top court said Thursday.

The nonbinding opinion concerns the dismissal of Karsten Kaltoft, a child-minder, by a Danish city council in 2010. Kaltoft argued that his obesity was part of the reason he lost his job and that it amounted to unfair discrimination, an allegation the Billund City Council denies.

The Court of Justice of the EU was asked to rule on whether EU law forbids discrimination on the grounds of obesity and if obesity can be considered a disability. The advocate general, who advises the European court in Luxembourg, found that EU law does not prohibit discrimination specifically on the grounds of obesity, even if it does offer general protection against bias on the grounds of disability.

But Niilo Jaaskinen, the advocate general, did conclude that extreme obesity, classified as having a body mass index (BMI) of over 40, could be considered a disability. “If obesity has reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life, then this can be a disability,” Jaaskinen said.

BMI is an indicator of obesity which takes into account a person’s weight and height. Kaltoft never weighed less than 160 kg during his employment, meaning he had a BMI of 54. Recommendations from advocates general are usually followed by the court, which will consider the Kaltoft case over the next few months.