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Ninth Circuit Finds That Individuals with Monocular Vision are Not Per Se Disabled for Purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Volume 1, Issue 10
October 6, 2013

Appeals Court Reaffirms That Disability Must Substantially Impair "Activity of Daily Living"

In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has once again clarified when an individual may be considered disabled, and therefore covered by the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), by finding that several individuals with monocular vision were not disabled because their impairment did not substantially restrict the daily activity of seeing.

United Parcel Service (UPS) maintains vision standards for its package vehicle drivers that mandate that any individual with monocular vision (i.e., vision in only one eye) is precluded from being employed as a driver of certain UPS vehicles. Several individuals with monocular vision, in conjunction with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), brought suit in federal district court under the ADA when they were denied driver assignments. Upon review, the Ninth Circuit held that for an impairment to be considered a disability, it must substantially interfere with a major life activity apart from the manual tasks or other duties associated with a given job. In this case, the court found that all the individuals in question had adapted to their impairment, and were not substantially restricted in either seeing or carrying out normal activities of living on a day-to-day basis. As such, the court found that none of the individuals was disabled as defined by the ADA.

In responding to the EEOC's allegations that the UPS standard violated the ADA because itregarded individuals with monocular sight as disabled, the Ninth Circuit utilized the same standard. For a person to be regarded as disabled, the court held, an employer must believe a person's impairment substantially limits the person in regular activities of living. In this case, the Ninth Circuit found that it could not determine whether the UPS standards were instituted because UPS believed persons with monocular sight to be substantially impeded in the daily activity of seeing, or if it simply believed them to be unsafe drivers and therefore not qualified for the position. As such, the court remanded that issue to the district court.

The decision builds upon the Supreme Court's decision in Toyota Motor Mfg., Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams (see Volume 1, Issue 5 of the Employer Report), and is a favorable one for employers as it narrows the standard by which an employee can be considered disabled under the ADA. Following this decision, an employee can no longer claim himself disabled solely because he cannot perform one or more manual tasks that are part of his job - an employee must now show that he is impaired in his ability to perform "personal" tasks that transcend the workplace.

EEOC, et al. v. United Parcel Service, Case No. 01-15410 (9th Cir. Sept. 20, 2002).

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