Appeals Court Doesn't Mind Sight Impairment

September 23, 2002 ( - A federal appeals court has determined that a vision impairment did not necessarily rise to the level of a disability, affording employers some additional breathing room in accommodating workers.

In EEOC v. United Parcel Service, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday took three U.S. Supreme Court decisions about what constitutes a disability and melded them into one ruling, according to The Recorder.

In a unanimous decision Judge Pamela Rymer wrote that a vision impairment that doesn’t affect the major life activity of seeing is not a disability under federal law.  

Sight Finding

The case involved several UPS employees who could only see out of one eye. Those wokers claimed their one-eyed sight was a disability, and that the company’s policy of not allowing employees with their condition to hold truck-driving positions was discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The trial court found that two of the employees were indeed disabled, and it enjoined the company from using its vision protocol unless modified.

Substantial Limits

However, in concluding that the plaintiffs were not disabled, the 9th Circuit leaned on the standard established by the US Supreme Court in Toyota v. Williams, a case decided after the trial court’s decision in the UPS case (see  Supreme Court Narrows Definition of Disability ).

“The question here is whether the particular impairment that a particular claimant has substantially limits that individual’s major life activity of seeing,” wrote Rymer.   Ultimately, since the claimants were able to drive, read, use tools, and play sports, the court reasoned that the “impairment does not keep either one of them from using his eyesight as most people do for daily life.”

Rymer remanded the matter to the lower court to determine whether UPS regarded the individuals as disabled under the higher threshold set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case is EEOC v. United Parcel Service Inc., 02 C.D.O.S. 9672.