Sunday, December 19, 2004

Seventh Circuit on Definition of Disability

The Seventh Circuit Friday issued its opinion in Branham v. Snow. The court ruled that an individual with insulin-dependent diabetes satisfied his summary judgment burden on the issue of whether he had a "disability" as defined by the Rehabilitation Act (which is the same for these purposes as the ADA). The court found that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence of substantial limitation in the major life activity of eating on the basis of the following:

He is significantly restricted as to the manner in which he can eat as compared to the average person in the general population. His dietary intake is dictated by his diabetes, and must respond, with significant precision, to the blood sugar readings he takes four times a day. Depending upon the level of his blood sugar, Mr. Branham may have to eat immediately, may have to wait to eat, or may have to eat certain types of food. Even after the mitigating measures of his treatment regimen, he is never free to eat whatever he pleases because he risks both mild and severe bodily reactions if he disregards his blood sugar readings. He must adjust his diet to compensate for any greater exertion, stress, or illness that he experiences.

The court also concluded that the plaintiff, who had been rejected by the IRS for a criminal investigator's position on the basis of his diabetes, had presented sufficient evidence to overcome summary judgment on the questions whether he was "otherwise qualified" and would pose a "direct threat."

As this case shows, Sutton's mitigating measures ruling doesn't mean that all plaintiffs with controlled, insulin-dependent diabetes will lose on the disability question. Courts must still consider whether the mitigating measures themselves impose substantial limitations. Although some courts seem to have missed that point, the Seventh Circuit's decision in Branham is a good example of the approach Sutton calls for.


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