What's The Meaning?

Who's Disabled?

The other two cases decided by the court concerned similar issues. In Oregon, a doctor erroneously certified that truck driver Hallie Kirkingburg, who is nearly blind in one eye, met Department of Transportation (DOT) standards for commercial truck drivers. With that assessment, Kirkingburg worked as a truck driver for two years for the supermarket chain Albertsons Inc. When his vision was correctly assessed in a subsequent physical, Albertsons discharged him, refusing to accept a DOT waiver of the vision standard. Kirkingburg sued under the ADA. Although the lower court ruled in favor of the employer, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Kirkingburg had established a disability because his manner of seeing was "different" from the way most people see.

In accord with its decision in the Sutton case, the Supreme Court ruled that because Kirkingburg's mind had compensated for the impairment, he didn't qualify as being disabled under the ADA. Albertsons wasn't required by law to participate in the waiver program, which amounted to a DOT experiment.

The third case concerned Vaughn Murphy, a Kansas mechanic for UPS Inc. Murphy was discharged because high blood pressure precluded his meeting DOT health standards--a requirement because his job included test-driving the vehicles he repaired. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that, because Murphy's high blood pressure was controlled by medication, he was not disabled. Nor was he regarded as disabled, because the reason for termination was his inability to obtain DOT health certification, not some perception that he wasn't capable of performing a broad range of jobs.

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This article was originally published in the September 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What's The Meaning?.

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