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High Blood Pressure and Temporary Vision Problems are ADA Disabilities

March 24, 2014

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 law suit by Mr. Gogos. 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, the episode of a blood-pressure spike and vision loss are covered disabilities. He attributes both problems to his longstanding blood-pressure condition, and the implementing regulations of the ADA 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 higher-than-usual blood pressure and vision loss substantially impaired a major life activity when they occurred. The court accepted argument by Mr. Gogos 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 the case.

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