Supreme Court Rules That Corrective Aids Must Be Considered in Determining Existence of a Disability

In Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 119 S.Ct. 2139, 144 L.Ed.2d 450 (1999), twin sisters with severe myopia, but 20/20 vision with glasses, were turned down for positions as global pilots because they could not meet the company’s requirement of 20/100 uncorrected vision. The sued, claiming they were denied the jobs because they have a disability, myopia, and/or because the company perceives them as having a disability based on its requirement of 20/100 uncorrected vision. The Supreme Court affirmed dismissals by the courts below, ruling that a person whose physical or mental impairment is corrected by medication or other measures (in this case by corrective lenses) does not have a disability within the meaning of the ADA, as the corrected condition does not "substantially limit" them in any major life activity. The Court also ruled that, in this case, the plaintiffs could not show that they had been discriminated against due to the employer’s "perception" of a disability, the plaintiff had not been shut out of a broad class or range of jobs. Only the position of global pilot was foreclosed to them; other positions utilizing their skills, such as regional pilot and pilot instructor, were available to them.

In Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 527 U.S. 516, 119 S.Ct. 2133, 144 L.Ed.2d 484 (1999), decided on the same day as Sutton, the Supreme Court considered the claim of a truck driver suffering from hypertension. The Court concluded that he was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, because his hypertension did not substantially limit him in any major life activity as long as he took his medication.

Asthma Sufferer Is Not Disabled Within Meaning of ADA Where Corrective Medication is Available and She Chooses Not to Take it

According to a Maryland federal district court, an asthmatic employee did not have a "disability" as defined by the ADA, where her asthma was treatable by a steroid medication, but she intentionally failed to follow her physicians' recommendations that she take it. Tangires v. John Hopkins Hosp., 2000 WL 19110, 10 A.D. Cases 215 (D.Md. 2000).

An Employee Who Cannot Meet the Employer’s Attendance Requirements Is Not "Qualified" for Protection Under the ADA

A property disposal technician at an airport authority was chronically late to work. For example, he was late 96 times between October 1993 and June 1994 alone. When the employer proposed a five-day suspension, he claimed that he was being treated for depression and that his condition affected his ability to get to work on time. As an accommodation, he requested a flexible starting time – a window of time in which to arrive at the beginning of the day – and that he be allowed to extend his workday accordingly in order to work his full shift. The employer agreed to a ten-minute window and later even expanded the flextime window to fifteen minutes, but the tardiness continued. He was late 42 times between May 12, 1995, and July 24, 1995, with an average tardiness of 27 minutes. As a last resort, the employer changed his starting time from 8:15 A.M. to 9:30 a.m., but once again the employee was late 55 times ov er the next 6 6 days. The employer then discharged him, and be filed a charge with the EEOC, which found reasonable cause to believe that the employer had violated the ADA. The employee then filed suit and the case went to trial. However, at the conclusion of the employee’s case-in-chief, the district court granted the employer’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The 4th Circuit affirmed, holding that

"[a]n employee who cannot meet the attendance requirements of the job at issue cannot be considered a 'qualified' individual protected by the ADA." Id. This conclusion is based on the common-sense notion that "an employee who does not come to work cannot perform any of his job functions, essential or otherwise.'"

Hollestelle v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, 145 F.3d 1324 (4th Cir. 1998).

Employee Who Cannot Meet Employer’s Full-Time Requirement Is Not "Qualified" for Protection Under the ADA

A staff real estate appraiser was injured in an on-the-job car accident that left her with seizures and vertigo. Her physician restricted her driving for six months, which prevented her from performing her duties. She returned to work, but her physician again restricted her driving. The employer eliminated the staff appraiser position, offered her a full-time position as a loan service representative, and agreed to hold the position for her until her physician released her to accept it, which was expected within a month. Instead, the physician approved her only for part-time work – four hours a day. The employer terminated her and hired a full-time person, and the employee sued, claiming a violation of the ADA. The court granted summary judgment for the employer. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the employee had not proven herself a "qualified individual," as she could not work full time and that was an essential function of the position. Millner v. Co-operative Savings Bank, 151 F.3d 1029 (4th Cir. 1998).