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[IP] Scope of Disability Law Questioned
just some stuff to ponder as we debae on who is REALLY disabled and who is
just a whiner...are does diabetes count as a "impairment that substantially
limits a major life activity?" I personally, happen to think YES IT IS.
Scope of Disability Law Questioned
.c The Associated Press
By MAGGIE JACKSON
Vaughn Murphy controls his high blood pressure with medication. When UPS
fired him as a mechanic and driver, saying his condition made him unfit to
drive, he sued under the law protecting the disabled.
But is he really disabled?
This week, the Supreme Court considers whether Murphy, and workers in two
similar cases, are protected by law from discrimination even if they have
corrected their conditions with, say, medicine or eyeglasses.
The court's eventual rulings will define who is protected under the 1990
Americans with Disabilities Act: just the severely disabled, or millions more
with contact lenses, diabetes or hearing aids.
Employers and advocates for the disabled alike are closely watching the
cases, which will be argued before the court starting Tuesday.
``The importance of this case and the other two is that they will determine
how open the front door to the ADA will be,'' said Kirk Lowry, a Topeka,
Kan., lawyer representing Murphy.
Lower courts have come down on both sides of the issue, giving the Supreme
Court an impetus to step in and clarify the scope of the civil rights law
banning discrimination against the disabled.
``Both employers and employees need to know what the correct rule of law
is,'' said Aaron Hughes, lawyer for Karen Sutton and Kimberly Hinton,
severely nearsighted twin sisters.
Ms. Sutton, of Spokane, Wash. and Ms. Hinton, of Petal, Miss., sued United
Airlines for rejecting them from jobs as pilots. Their case comes before the
The third case involves Hallie Kirkingburg, a truck driver hired in Portland,
Ore. by Albertson's grocery stores. Kirkingburg, who has poor vision in one
eye, sued the company after they fired him.
Employers have fared well in ADA court battles. They have won 92 percent of
the 700 ADA cases resolved in court from 1992 to 1997, according to a study
by the American Bar Association.
But now employers fear that victories by the workers in the Supreme Court
cases could lead to a flood of new lawsuits.
``It will allow a much larger population to claim rights under the ADA,''
said Quentin Riegel, deputy general counsel for the National Association of
Manufacturers, which has filed a brief with the court siding with United
Tthe numbers of people protected by the ADA would skyrocket. Take one
example: Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population -- or about 152 million
people -- are nearsighted enough to need glasses.
Employers scoff at the idea that a person whose impairment is corrected
day-to-day can sue for discrimination under the ADA, which defines a
disability as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
UPS lawyer William Kilberg argues that by the ADA's definition, Murphy is
``not entitled to the advantages that the statute reserves for people who are
disabled.'' UPS says Murphy was fired in 1994 because his blood pressure
exceeded federal regulations for drivers.
But advocates for the disabled -- along with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission -- argue that if someone is fired or rejected from a job because
of their impairment, that is discrimination.
``Say someone's lost a leg, and they can walk with a prosthesis, they're
still substantially limited in a major life activity: walking,'' said Ellen
Vargyas, EEOC legal counsel. ``Most people would accept as a given that that
person is covered.''
Vaughn Murphy has found another job, fixing utility trucks. But he's still
``It's blatant discrimination,'' said the Manhattan, Kan., mechanic.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP
news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise
distributed without prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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