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Government Sues BAE for Firing 600-Pound Houston Man

Hemera/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- The U.S. government has sued defense contractor BAE Systems Inc., alleging that the company fired an employee because he was morbidly obese and failed to accommodate him under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Ronald Kratz II, who weighed over 600 pounds and had worked in BAE's manufacturing location in Houston since 1994, was fired in October 2009.

After being told to report to human resources, Kratz told ABC News, he was informed he was being terminated due to his weight, despite receiving "good evaluations."  

The suit filed Tuesday states that a human resources official told him he could no longer perform his job duties as a material handler "because of his weight and he was therefore terminated."

The human resources official told him he could not be transferred into another position after Kratz, 42, inquired if that was a possibility, reported Houston ABC affiliate KTRK.

Kratz, who has since lost over 200 pounds, has not been able to find another job since his termination. He told ABC News his wife financially supports him and his three daughters, after his unemployment benefits ended about one month ago.

Kratz said 90 percent of his job entailed typing on a computer at a desk. Otherwise, he said he counted and wrapped parts to prepare them for storage while standing, and he drove a forklift.

Kathy Boutchee, senior trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal employment law enforcement agency, said Kratz was instructed to wear a seat belt that did not fit while he drove the forklift. He said he never received a seat belt extender after requesting one and was fired about two weeks after that.

The EEOC suit accused BAE of violating the ADA by firing Kratz because of his disability, denying him employment opportunities, and failing to accommodate his disability.

Boutchee said the company "easily" could have reprimanded Kratz for not wearing a seat belt or provided him a seat belt extender, as required by law. She said an EEOC investigation found that other employees were driving forklifts without seat belts.

Kelly Golden, BAE Systems spokeswoman, provided a company statement to ABC News. "BAE Systems Inc. believes it acted lawfully in this matter and given that the issue is the subject of pending litigation it would not be appropriate to comment further," the company said. "BAE systems takes pride in the diversity of the company and in supporting employees with disabilities."

BAE Systems Inc., headquartered in Arlington, Va., has 100,000 employees worldwide and offers products and services for air, land and naval forces, according to the company. Its parent company, BAE Systems PLC, is based in London.

The EEOC is demanding back wages, other "affirmative relief necessary to eradicate the effects of the unlawful employment practices to which he was subjected," compensatory damages for past and future losses from emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages for BAE's "malicious and/or reckless conduct."

Boutchee said Kratz' case could last 12 to 18 months if it is not resolved before trial.

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