MHRH moved to dismiss Cook's claim, arguing that obesity can never constitute a disability within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act.
Although no evidence was introduced that Cook's obesity was caused by physiological factors or that she had developed any medical conditions as a result of her obesity, substantial evidence was introduced indicating that MHRH had refused to hire Cook based on what it believed to be her limited mobility and the risk of increased workers, compensation and absenteeism costs.
According to the EEOC, both the position taken by MHRH (that obesity is never a covered disability because it is voluntary) and the position taken by the district court (that obesity is covered only if a physiological disorder renders it immutable) were incorrect statements of the law; rather, obesity may be a disability under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA "if it constitutes an impairment and if it is of such duration that it substantially limits a major life activity or is regarded as doing so."(15) It is not a prerequisite that
Because the district court had found the jury verdict supported by evidence that MHRH regarded Cook as disabled, it was not necessary that the First Circuit determine whether or not Cook was actually disabled by her obesity; nonetheless, the appellate court alluded to certain of the arguments that were put forward by the EEOC in its amicus brief in finding that "the record comfortably justified either finding."(22)
Moreover, according to the court, MHRH cannot justify its decision to reject Cook's application because of its concerns over the potential for high absenteeism and increased workers, compensation costs.