(A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and (B) job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities (42 U.S.C. § 12111[A] and 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2[o]).
The ADA is intended to encourage employers to accommodate disabled workers by undergoing an individualized process of determining the needs of the employee, identifying the essential functions of jobs, and providing necessary, reasonable accommodation to the disabled employee. If a disabled person cannot perform the essential functions of his or her own job, that employee may be entitled to reassignment to another vacant job. Since reported work disability increases substantially with age, the ADA provides a potential source of significant protection for aging workers.
A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have clarified the scope of employers’ obligations under this statute. In 1998, the Court held that individuals who are HIV positive qualify as “disabled” and therefore are entitled to protection under the law (Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624 ). The following year, the Court rejected claims from individuals claiming disability discrimination in three cases. Although none of these decisions specifically involved older workers or work-related issues, all three have some bearing on the development of the law under the ADA.
In two of these cases the court concluded that “a person whose physical or mental impairment is corrected by medication or other measures does not have an impairment that presently ‘substantially limits’ a major life activity” (Sutton v. United Airlines, 527 U.S. 471 ; Murphy v. United Parcel Service, 527 U.S. 516 ). In Sutton, the court rejected the claims of individuals whose myopia was corrected with lenses. In Murphy, UPS had terminated the employment of a worker with hypertension. The Court applied the ruling in Sutton and held that Murphy did not meet the definition of disability set out in the statute. Therefore, his termination was legal. Under these decisions, older workers with chronic disease, including hypertension and diabetes, may not be considered “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA, unless they can demonstrate that they continue to be substantially impaired in the performance of a major life activity despite treatment.
Second, in Albertson’s, Inc. v. Kirkingburg, 527 U.S. 555 (1999), the plaintiff was rejected for reemployment after undergoing a return-to-work physical following an absence for an unrelated work injury. The examining physician determined that he did not meet required vision standards due to monocularity. The Supreme Court rejected any per se rule that would hold