Sutton v united airlines inc 527 u s 471 1999
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Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc . 527 U.S. 471 (1999). Sherrie Brown LSJ 434/CHID 434 Winter 2010. FACTS.

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Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc . 527 U.S. 471 (1999)

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Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc.527 U.S. 471 (1999)

Sherrie Brown

LSJ 434/CHID 434

Winter 2010


  • Twin sisters (with severe myopia that is correctable to 20/20 vision) contend that UAL failure to hire them as global airline pilots was discrimination on the basis of disability and a violation of ADA Title I.

  • UAL argued that they were not disabled under the statutory definition and therefore were not owed ADA protections—i.e., could not bring a complaint under ADA.

  • Sisters argued that they met the definition because they are substantially limited in a MLA of seeing or regarded as substantially limited in a MLA of working.

  • 10th Circuit Court of appeals held for UAL on all counts and the case was dismissed.


  • Did Congress intend that determining whether an individual is “disabled” for purposes of ADA coverage does or does not consider mitigating factors?

    • Under both Subsection (A) and Subsection (C) of the statute.


  • Yes, Congress intended that mitigating factors be considered when determining whether an individual is “disabled” for purposes of the ADA.


  • Majority:

    • Refused to defer to EEOC regulations or guidance on mitigating measures in determining disability; EEOC does not have the delegated authority to interpret the term under ADA.

    • Phrase “substantially limits” is in the present indicative verb tense.

    • Requirement that disabilities be assessed on individual basis.

    • Congress’ finding that only 43 M were covered.

    • In regards to Subsection (C) no evidence that UAL regarded twins as SL in MLA of working—requires a broad class of jobs.


  • Dissent:

    • Argued that this interpretation created bizarre results—i.e., ADA protections disappear when individuals attempt to minimize the impact of their disabilities on function.

    • Argued for EEOC interpretation on basis of legislative history and the fact that 8/9 circuits agreed with that interpretation.


  • Severe limitations in the number of plaintiffs who can get their complaint heard.

  • If you do not meet the statutory definition of disability, can not claim disability discrimination.

  • So…diabetics in control, epileptics in control, use of prosthetic? (what does the majority say to this?)

  • Does the Court address the physical requirement UAL has for global pilots?

  • Primarily see these arguments in employment cases.

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