Supreme Court Limits Rights of People with Diabetes

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People with diabetes who sue their employers for discrimination based on their disease may now have a more difficult time in court.

The rights of people with diabetes were limited by restrictions the U.S. Supreme Court placed on the Americans with Disabilities Act on June 22. With a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act does not cover people who can use eyeglasses, medication or other treatments to correct their disabilities. Because people with diabetes can control their disease with insulin, they are not covered in the new version of the law.

In a June 23 article in The Washington Post, Michael A. Greene, a lawyer for the American Diabetes Association (ADA), said the new law places people with diabetes in a no-win situation.

“You’re damned if you don’t medicate, but you’re damned if you do, because you lose your legal rights,” said Greene.

According to Joseph LaMountain, national director of advocacy for the ADA, his organization will continue to try to protect the rights of people with diabetes despite the Supreme Court’s ruling. LaMountain says that in the past, when a person with diabetes sued for protection under the old Americans with Disabilities Act, the court considered the person in the untreated condition. He says that if people with diabetes want to sue their employers for discrimination under the new law, they will have to prove that even with treatment they are disabled in some way by their disease, and that they are qualified for their job.

“The bottom line is that a person with diabetes will first have to show that, even with treatment, he or she is substantially limited in a major life activity,” he says. “Once that is shown, the person will then have to turn around and prove that with reasonable accommodation, he or she can do the job in question.”

Greene told The Washington Post that the Supreme Court’s decision will hurt people with diabetes who are capable of doing their jobs, but are refused special accommodations or time off of work to get treatment. The new Americans with Disabilities Act will not protect them from this kind of discrimination.

Georgetown University law professor Chai Feldblum told The Washington Post, “These decisions create the absurd result of a person being disabled enough to be fired from a job, but not disabled enough to challenge the firing.”

However, the Supreme Court’s decision may also benefit people with diabetes. LaMountain and Greene say they believe that the decisions may stop employers from rejecting all potential employees with chronic diseases without first evaluating them, because the law implies employers must evaluate job seekers individually.

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