Scaling Back the ADA: How the Sutton v. United Airlines Decision Affects Employees with Bipolar Disorder.
The Sutton v. United Airlines decision went too far in the Supreme Court’s effort to scale back the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congress should review the Sutton decision and amend the ADA to consider disabilities as they exist without regard to mitigating measures based on the severity of the illness. To seek protection under the ADA, one must have a discernable disability, and one’s impairment must be diagnosed and disclosed to the employer. Disability, however, was not specifically defined in the ADA, and no agency or regulation has specifically defined disability for the courts to utilize under the ADA. The lack of a definition has seriously undermined the purpose and effectiveness of the ADA. The Court’s opinion has dealt a substantial blow to employees seeking protection under the ADA. According to the Court, “substantially limits” means to be presently substantially limited. The ADA only extends to those who can prove they have an impairment that “substantially limits” one or more major life activity. If a plaintiff is currently healthy, an inquiry as to one’s condition when viewed in its present form will always be viewed in a healthy/non-disabled form if there is no manifestation of their condition. Interpreting the ADA in its present indicative form creates the danger of allowing an employer to reassess the condition of its employees and allows an opening for these employers to freely discriminate. Ultimately, a more practical approach is needed when determining whether an employee should be protected.