Under the ADA, a qualified individual cannot be discriminated against based upon his “disability.” A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Courts have held that to be considered a disability, each impairment must be considered on a case-by-case basis — there is no “one size fits all” to determine whether it is a defined disability.
A recent federal case is interesting because the employee with diabetes claimed that his condition prevented him from working night shifts, because it interfered with his recognized major life activity of eating; he claimed that it affected his eating habits and dietary regimen which was necessary to control his diabetes.
However, medical testimony in the case demonstrated that the employee was capable of maintaining his required dietary regimen whether he worked days or nights, as long as he stuck to his established regimen of meals, rest and medication. The employee’s implicit argument, however, was that because his diabetes could be a debilitating condition with serious health consequences if he did not follow his dietary regimen, then his diabetes should be considered a disability under the ADA.
The Court disagreed. It held that the employee’s argument was hypothetical, and not in the nature of the required case-by-case analysis. It stated that when and under what conditions diabetes is a disability under the ADA is matter of degree, and the “modest dietary measures” which the employee must take to mitigate the effects of his condition must be considered.
Accordingly, the Court concluded that “no genuine issue existed as to whether his impairment substantially limited his eating,” and therefore he is not disabled under the ADA’s definition of the term.
What is the takeaway from this case? Its that even a serious and life threatening illness and impairment such as diabetes may not always be considered a disability under the ADA for purposes of employer accommodation.
It all depends.