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What's The Meaning?

Show a hearing-impaired applicant to the door and you could be slapped with a lawsuit, right? According to the Supreme Court, the answer lies in the definition of disability.

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This story appears in the September 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Colorado twin sisters Karen Sutton and Kimberly Hinton wanted to become commercial airline pilots. But when they applied for pilot positions with United Airlines, the twins met all the basic job requirements except one: Both are severely nearsighted. Although each has 20/20 vision with the aid of her glasses, United still refused to hire them. In response to the airline's decision, the sisters sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against disabled people. But are they really disabled?

That's the question the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider when it took the case, after both the District Court and the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the airline. And on June 22, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in this case, in addition to two others, all raising the question of exactly who is entitled to ADA protection. In all three cases, the court issued rulings that narrow the definition of disability. According to the rulings, none of the plaintiffs--three with poor eyesight and one with high blood pressure--qualified for protection under the ADA.

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