BAE Systems Fires 680lb Man. Can He Do The Job?
Ronald Kratz II, who weighed as much as 680 pounds while he was working at BAE Systems in Sealy, says his obesity never kept him from doing his job or receiving high performance ratings during his 16-year career.
But one day two years ago, when he reported for an overtime shift on his materials handling job, Kratz was told that he was too heavy to continue performing the work
In an interview with the Chronicle on Wednesday, Kratz said he was called into the human resources office and told he was being terminated because company officials thought he weighed too much.
“It was a total surprise,” said Kratz, who had received high marks on his two most recent job evaluations. He said company officials declined his offer to take a demotion to keep his job.
“I wanted to cry,” recalled Kratz, who was earning $21 an hour and supports a wife and three teenagers. He filed a complaint with the EEOC, which investigated his claims.
On Tuesday, the agency alleged in a federal lawsuit that BAE Systems violated federal disability laws by firing its morbidly obese employee.
BAE said in a written statement that it is reviewing the allegations and “will respond at the appropriate time and manner.”
Kratz, 42, still hasn’t found another job, despite submitting numerous applications, and his unemployment benefits have run out. “It has really been hard on the family,” he said.
Kratz said he weighed 450 pounds when BAE hired him, gained more than 200 pounds while working there and is now down to less than 300 pounds, thanks to surgery and a diet and exercise program.
John Griffin Jr., an employment lawyer who represents employees in disability cases, called Kratz’s situation a classic disability discrimination case.
In its Houston federal court lawsuit, the EEOC alleges that Virginia-based BAE, which manufactures military vehicles, fired Kratz for his disability as well as its perception that he was disabled.
It appears the company took the impairment it saw – Kratz’s obesity – as the reason for termination, said Griffin, managing partner at Marek, Griffin & Knaupp in Victoria.
Kratz said his weight didn’t interfere with his job – which included mostly desk work with some sorting and moving of inventory – and that he didn’t ask for any accommodation except a seatbelt extension for the forklift he sometimes had to operate. Kratz said he never received the extender.
BAE contended Kratz had difficulty walking from the parking lot to the plant, from which it concluded he had trouble walking around the facility, said Kathy Boutchee, the EEOC lawyer in charge of the case.
The company also told EEOC investigators that Kratz had difficulty bending, stooping and kneeling.
But like his co-workers, Kratz sorted parts on a raised platform, so he didn’t have to stoop, Boutchee said.
BAE officials did not discuss whether he was entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act so he could better perform his essential duties, according to the suit.
The lawsuit says Kratz received “very good” ratings in his 2008 and 2009 performance evaluations.
BAE replaced Kratz with an employee who was not obese, the EEOC said.
Can he do the job?
Griffin, the employment lawyer, said that in passing the disabilities act, Congress sent a message that employment decisions must be based on whether workers can do the job and not whether they have physical impairments. It shouldn’t matter whether employees have only three fingers or have epilepsy or diabetes if they can do the job, he said.
Congress amended the disabilities act in 2008, expanding the definition of what constitutes a disability and making it easier for millions more disabled workers to qualify for protections under the act. That means that more disabled employees are covered, including those who can control their disabilities through medical treatment. Source: Houston Chronicle. Chron.com.