TOPICS > Politics

Limiting the ADA

June 22, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Those Supreme Court decisions on the Americans with Disabilities Act, we begin with NewsHour regular Jan Crawford Greenburg, national legal affairs correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Jan, there were three cases; one, twin sisters who wanted to be pilots. What are the facts of that case?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: They applied for jobs with United Airlines. They went out for their job interview; they said they were qualified, but when United discovered that they had very poor vision, United declined to hire them.

JIM LEHRER: All right. The next one was a truck driver. What were his facts?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: He actually worked for UPS, United Parcel Service, but when UPS found out that he had high blood pressure that exceeded safety standards, it fired him.

JIM LEHRER: I see. And then there was a mechanic.

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Right. The mechanic — well, he also wanted to drive a truck, and for Albertson’s, and when they discovered that he had very poor vision, they also fired him.

JIM LEHRER: Now, in each one of these cases these — the four people in the three cases because there were twin sisters — but each one of them claimed that they were discriminated against under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And what did they want done?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: They said that they were qualified for these jobs because they could use corrective measures to correct their impairment and that the companies at issue, United, UPS, and Albertson’s, the grocery store chain, had discriminated against them by refusing to hire them or by terminating them.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, the court today turned them — turned them down and ruled with their employers in all three of these cases. On what grounds?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: All right. The court sided with the employers and it said essentially that because they could correct their impairments, they were not disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court noted and referred to the definition of disability in the Act. According to the Act, disability or to be disabled means that you are substantially limited in a major life activity. The court said that because these people could correct their impairments to the point that they had average eyesight, not very high blood pressure and so on, that they were not disabled, not substantially limited under the law.

JIM LEHRER: Now, are there any other — this was, of course, would be the court session on disabilities, on the American Disabilities Act. Are there any more cases pending, or is this it?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Well, they had one other case today under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a completely different case, and it looked at what states must do under a different provision of the Disabilities Act, and today the court said that states must, for mentally handicapped patients or people put them in the most integrated community settings, instead of leaving them in state mental institutions. But they allowed the states some leeway in that case and said that in states it would be too expensive or would divert from their programs that they did have some leeway.

JIM LEHRER: So those are all the cases that were –

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: The four main cases that came down today, that’s right.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, Jan, don’t go away.