Is High Blood Pressure a disability under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and its amendments (ADAAA)? Can you leave work if you have a spike in your high blood pressure without being penalized?
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently was presented with this question? In Gogos v. AMS Mechanical Systems, Inc., 737 F.3d 1170 (7th Cir. 2013) a welder/pipefitter was terminated when he asked to leave work because of a spike in his high blood pressure and a related visual problem. The District Court held that high blood pressure was not a disability under the ADA and ADAAA and dismissed his case. Mr. Gagos (the employee) appealed his decision and the 7th Circuit in reversing the district court’s dismissal of his ADA complaint found that the employee’s intermittent spikes in blood pressure and visual loss could qualify as disabilities within the ADAAA’s broader definition of “disability” by substantially limiting major life activities such as circulatory functions and eyesight. (under the ADA a disability must substantially limit a major life activity. Prior to the amendments by congress to the ADA many courts and arbitrators used this to make it almost impossible to bring a case for disability discrimination. However with the amendments to the ADA the ADAAA (as it is known) Congress reversed the Court decisions which limited the rights of employees and now many more injuries and illnesses are covered under the law. Unfortunately, many Courts and arbitrators are having a hard time understanding and implementing the changes in the definition of disability and the Appellate Courts are reversing the Court’s decisions dismissing disabled employees’ claims for discrimination.
In this case the court gave three reasons that High Blood Pressure is a disability under the ADAAA, First, the Court noted provisions in the ADAAA itself. Second the Court noted the EEOC’s regulations implementing the ADAAA, and finally the interpretive guidance accompanying the EEOC’s regulations which say that conditions that are episodic or in remission can be disabilities if they are substantially
limiting when active, as well as language in the interpretive guidance that specifically identifies hypertension as a condition that is potentially episodic. The court also held that plaintiff’s high blood pressure could be a disability substantially limiting cardiovascular and circulatory functions on an ongoing basis. In this regard, the court referred to the rule of construction in the ADAAA that whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity is to be determined without reference to mitigating measures, such as medications. (prior to the amendments to the ADA Courts stated that if a disability was well controlled by medication it did not meet the definition of disability. The amendments to the ADA specifically reject this faulty court interpretation of the law.
In reversing this case and sending it back to the district court for a trial on the merits, the 7th Circuit is telling district judges and arbitrators that the definition of disability is broad in nature and that cases should not be dismissed based upon prior law that was rejected by congress. El Paso employees who are the subject of wrongful termination are often subject to discrimination for disability. High Blood pressure is just one type of disability that is covered by the Americans with Disability Act. Unfortunately it may take a while before all district courts and arbitrators become acquainted in the new law on the definition of disability. But the attitude of courts are changing which will open the door for disabled workers in El Paso, Texas.