ADA: Supreme Court To Rule On Treatable Conditions
The Supreme Court Friday agreed to address the issue of whether the Americans with Disabilities Act can be construed to prohibit discrimination against employees with a treatable medical condition. The Baltimore Sun reports that "[w]orkers who have disabilities have been arguing in lawsuits across the country that they are covered by the [ADA] even if their condition can be corrected medically, while management has countered that a disability does not exist if it is corrected, so the law does not apply" (Denniston, 1/9). Solicitor General Seth Waxman, representing the Clinton administration, "urged the justices" to take the case "to put an end to the confusion over precisely when a civil-rights claim can be lodged under the law against an employer" (Deibel, Scripps Howard/Washington Times, 1/9). The ADA prohibits discrimination against a worker with an "impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities," but does not specify whether or not that standard includes correctable ailments. A brief filed last month by the federal government argues that it was the "intent of Congress as well as the long-held view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" that such disabilities be included (Greenhouse, New York Times, 1/9). Bloomberg News/Boston Globe reports that such a decision "could mean new financial penalties for companies and a requirement that they accommodate the disabilities of a host of new workers." Former EEOC general counsel Don Livingston said, "It has the potential of elevating what have been viewed as more trivial impairments and putting them on the same legal footing as more serious impairments" (1/9). The AP/Houston Chronicle reports that according to a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, such a ruling could expand the scope of the ADA to people with "asthma, diabetes and even poor eyesight" (1/9).
The Big Three
"Evidently eager to conduct a broad review," the Supreme Court has decided to take up the question in the form of three cases:
- Sutton v. United Air Lines: A pair of identical twin sisters sued the company after being denied employment as pilots because they are nearsighted; their vision is correctable to 20/20. The appeals court ruled that because their condition was treatable, they did not suffer a substantial limitation and "their suit had no legal basis."
- Murphy v. United Parcel Service: A mechanic for UPS was released for his high blood pressure, although medication allowed him to function normally. He lost both in federal court and on appeal.
- Albertson's Inc. v. Kirkingburg: A vision- impaired truck driver sued under ADA, winning in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (New York Times, 1/9).