Discrimination can take many forms all of which are distasteful. There are also times when people try to claim discrimination in the workplace and it simply has not occurred. Employment law experts such as Ty Hyderally can help clients determine if discrimination in the workplace has occurred or not. Perhaps one of the most difficult areas in employment law is that of disability discrimination as the definition can sometimes be vague. But there are times in cases such as this one with the Sutton twins when it is clear that the employer has not engaged in discriminatory activities. Cases such as these take careful consideration to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.
Sutton v. United Airlines
The Suttons, Kimberly Hinton and Karen Sutton are identical twins who both suffer from acute visual myopia. They filed a suit under the ADA of 1990 against United Air Lines when they failed to hire them for positions as commercial airline pilots. The company has a standard for pilots which states their uncorrected vision has to be 20/100 or better. The twins both have uncorrected vision which is worse than 20/200; but it is 20/20 with the use of corrective lenses. Other than the vision requirements, the twins met all other criteria for pilot positions. When they were not hired, the twins filed a suit claiming that they were discriminated against. The court dismissed the case based on the fact that the actions were not discriminatory in nature; and they were not covered by the ADA.
What is a disability?
The ADA prohibits acts of discrimination by employers against individuals with disability who are otherwise qualified for the position. To be considered a “disability” it must meet at least one of these criteria:
- A mental or physical impairment which substantially limits at least one major life activity of an individual
- An official record of the impairment or
- Being treated or regarded as having such impairment.
Why did the courts rule against the Suttons?
The first area which disqualified this case was that the twins did not show that they had any other medical restrictions based on their disability other than not being hired by United Airlines. They also could not prove that they were unable to perform day to day tasks and that these daily tasks were carried out just as other persons can do. Compared to the average person they also do not have any restrictions of activities. Other than needing to wear corrective lenses they can function just like any other individuals. Unless an individual is substantially limited in their ability to perform basic like functions they are not considered to be disabled.
The court also determined that Sutton and Hinton did not fall under the second part of the ADA guidelines as their day to day activities were not restricted. And they did not fall under the second or third part of the definition due to the fact that they were not regarded as limited in life’s activities or in the work setting.
The twins claimed that the vision requirements were stereotypical and based on misconceptions. They stated that they were precluded from employment as a global airline pilot, or as a “class of employment.” The court did not see this position as a class of jobs. According to the EEOC, the twins were not allowed to become a commercial pilot because of this type of minor vision impairment could become a pilot for a courier service or other entity. Therefore they could work as a pilot, just not for this particular company.
Therefore, the Court stated that Ms. Sutton and Ms. Hinton were not “regarded as” having a disability and did not have a case according to the ADA.