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High Blood Pressure and Temporary Vision Problems Are ADA Disabilities

By on March 17, 2014 in ADA with 0 Comments

The ADA Amendments Act has substantially broadened coverage under the law.  An example comes in Gogos v. AMS Mechanical Systems, Inc., 737 F.3d 1170 (7th Cir. 2013).  Mr. Gogos worked as a pipe welder and had been taking medication to reduce his elevated blood pressure for the past eight years.  He commenced employment with the defendant in December 2012 as a welder.  One month later his blood pressure spiked to a very high level, causing some intermittent vision loss.

After reporting to work on January 30, 2013, Gogos noticed that his right eye was red.  He sought and received permission to obtain immediate medical treatment for his blood pressure and ocular conditions.  As he left the work site to go for treatment, he saw his general foreman and said he was headed to the hospital for health reasons.  The foreman immediately fired him.

Gogos sued under the ADA, but his case was dismissed by the district court because the court felt that his medical conditions were transitory.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the ADA Amendments Act and observed: “Under the 2008 amendments, a person with an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or a record of one, is disabled, even if the impairment is ‘transitory and minor’ (defined as lasting six months or less).   The court noted that the “transitory and minor” language only applies if the law suit is premised on being regarded as having an impairment. That was not the basis of Mr. Gogos’s law suit.  The court also noted that impairments that are episodic or in remission constitute a disability if they substantially limit a major life activity when active.

Based on these provisions, Gogos’s episode of a blood-pressure spike and vision loss are covered disabilities.  He attributes both problems to his longstanding blood-pressure condition, and the ADA’s implementing regulation lists hypertension as an example of an ‘impairment that may be episodic.’  Under the 2008 amendments, ‘the fact that the periods during which an episodic impairment is active and substantially limits a major life activity may be brief or occur infrequently is no longer relevant to determining whether the impairment substantially limits a major life activity.’

The court said that what was relevant was whether Gogos’s higher-than-usual blood pressure and vision loss substantially impaired a major life activity when they occurred.  The court accepted Gogos’s argument that he had impairment of two major life activities: circulatory function and eyesight.  The court also said that the chronic blood-pressure condition could also qualify as a disability because mitigating measures, such as medication that controls the condition, cannot be considered when assessing disability.  The condition must be considered without the benefit of medication in determining whether the condition is substantially limiting.  For these reasons the court vacated the dismissal of Gogos’s case.

The lesson here is to appreciate that coverage under the ADA has been greatly expanded.  In the aftermath of the ADA Amendments Act, it will be extremely difficult for an employer to prevail in ADA litigation by arguing that there is no covered disability.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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