600-Pound Forklift Operator Claims His Dismissal Is Weight Discrimination

It was the seatbelt extender that did him in. When Ronald Kratz alerted his superiors at a Houston-based plant run by BAE Systems that he was having trouble buckling the seatbelt of a forklift that he was operating, he suggested he use a seatbelt extender.

Kratz's problem was that he was too heavy, weighing some 600 pounds at the time of his request back in 2009. Two weeks later, the Houston resident was told that he was being let go.

Now that two years have passed, and his unemployment benefits have run out, Kratz has decided to file suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission representing him.

"I don't think people are aware morbid obesity could be considered a disability under the law," Kathy Boutchee, senior trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), told ABC News.

The legal rubric that Boutchee is referring to is the Americans With Disability Act, signed into law by the first President George Bush, back in 1990.

And Kratz, who has since lost some 200 lbs., could have a case. According to ABC News, his performance evaluations in 2008 and 2009 were "very good."

"It was a total surprise," said Kratz, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "I wanted to cry."

His wife is now supporting their three kids. Kratz went on to tell the Texas daily that he had offered to accept a demotion in order to remain employed. But perhaps what made the firing so surprising, in addition to the positive reviews he was receiving, was that physical labor took up some 10 percent of his work activities, he says. The rest of his time was occupied with desk work, as he helped oversee the administration of the packaging of parts for the company. BAE Systems, based in London, offers products and services for air, land and naval forces, according to the company. Its U.S. headquarters are in Arlington, Va., and the company counts some 100,000 employees worldwide.

As was reported on AOL Jobs in July, weight discrimination cases represent a burgeoning field in American jurisprudence. In fact, relevant cases protected by the ADA are scant, according to Jennifer Pomeranz, the director of Legal Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

These suits require the difficult-to-achieve qualification of formal disability to achieve protection. Otherwise those who seek justice in the name of workplace weight discrimination are largely on their own.

"Most employers would not admit this, and would say they are more productive or whatever," Pomeranz told AOL Jobs via e-mail. "But if they were sued for not promoting or hiring someone based on their weight, generally the plaintiff does not have a case outside of Michigan."

Indeed, Michigan is the lone state that has formal statewide decrees against weight discrimination. Other localities, however, have also begun protecting the overweight in the workplace. Six cities (Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Urbana, Ill.; Washington, D.C. and Binghamton, N.Y.) have laws similar to that of Santa Cruz, an early forerunner. Passed in 1995, Santa Cruz added weight to the following list of civil rights classifications to be protected in the workplace: race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation and height.

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Easwara Balasubraman


May 05 2014 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good he lost some weight seems like that was pretty strong motivation to get healthier. Be thankful and move on!

October 15 2013 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

AS fare as I am concerned, this is BS. The only reason most of the 400+ pound people are that heavy is that their arms are not used to push away from the table and their feet are not used enough for walking. The stupid TV show "Biggest Louser" proves that any overweight person can loose weight with diet and exercise in combination.

Burt Caldwell

October 06 2011 at 2:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Perhaps, in the future, we will find " uglo-americans" as disabled, and ready for the trough!! Wait, seems to me I read a piece that said JUST THAT!!! SAD that SOOOOO many people want to be " disabled" so they can get that prefered parking space, AND the DOLE that comes with it!! SOO many folks, who have no other life, WANT folks to KNOW they are disabled!! I am, as well, BUT you will NEVER see me apply for a plate or hanger denoting that!! It is NOT a badge of honor!! It really means--- " Look at me"!! I know I will get all types of flack for this, and PLEASE DO NOT ask me to " walk in your shoes"-- I do it EVERY day!!!

September 30 2011 at 9:38 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sheriff508's comment

I'm terminally ill, use a walker and braces on my leg and back. Do you mind if I use my handicapped placard? I promise it won't be for too much longer. You don't have to "look at me". In fact, I'd prefer if you didn't.

October 01 2011 at 2:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This 600 lb fork lift operator has a real name.. His name is Ronald Kratz...Do you people honestly know what you are talking about? Have you been in his shoes? Ronald Kratz HAD a job the same job of a matter of fact for 17 years... how many of you out there can honestly say YOU HAVE Held a single job at a single place for that long... As far as you idiots that insist on saying he over eats he needs to get his big ass back to work, has it occured to you that He has tried ? Have you been around him do you know him? Do you follow him in his daily life. RON KRATZ was an exclent lead man, a very loving father of three amazing girls and has a beautiful wife and an OUTSTANDING friend... Ron Kratz has a hart as big as he is. Does anyone really know how or why he is/was so obese? Are you certain that he is constantly raiding the refrigerator or just ASSuming ? He served his company(S) very well . He new his job as well as others jobs. Before you can judge do you honestly know what he did? Do you know that on all but his last reviews he reviewed very highly? For 17 Years did you know he worked NIGHTS...Now one more thing... Dont you nameles people hidding being the computer just hearing what yoiu want to hear feal real big and Important to downgrade another human?

Eric Florian

September 30 2011 at 9:10 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I feel that this whole issue is turning into a circus of hate! If he works hard, keep him working. If he is lazy and just sitting around, can him! I am in full support of those with real weight and medical issues. But if you are going to ride the system until the end, and then take them to court, you do NOT deserve a kick back. This suit should have been filed right away.

September 30 2011 at 9:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nancye Combs

Obesity (which is clearly defined) is a covered physical disability. However, a claim must be made within 180 days (statue of limitation) for most discriminaton cases under Title VII...Wonder what obscure law he found under which he could sue?? Yes, we do let employees use expanders to comply with the OSHA regulaitons.

September 30 2011 at 8:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Michelle Neff

I disagree he could not possbley do the work safetly due to his wieght. Loss of flexibility is a real issue here.

September 30 2011 at 8:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Since when is Fat being disabled. Now all the other overweight and fat people will be calling themselves disabled so they can sit around getting our money. I also heard that he used some of the money to get gastric bypass surgery. Huh? Insurance certainly won't pay for it b/c it clearly knows the deceit behind this that some people just pig out and it is not a medical condition.

September 30 2011 at 8:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The problem in this case is that they documented that he had been doing " very good" work the last 2 yrs. Letting someone go who is doing a good job is discrimination and is illegal. I agree smokers and over weight people have some control over their own health but the companies are still trying to cut all costs and get everyone working at a near poverty level. Finding any reason to dismiss somone and downsizing has become the favored way to show a profit

September 30 2011 at 8:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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