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

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 97-1943. Argued April 28, 1999—Decided June 22, 1999

Petitioners, severely myopic twin sisters, have uncorrected visual acuity of 20/200 or worse, but with corrective measures, both function identically to individuals without similar impairments. They applied to respondent, a major commercial airline carrier, for employment as commercial airline pilots but were rejected because they did not meet respondent's minimum requirement of uncorrected visual acuity of 20/100 or better. Consequently, they filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their disabilities. Among other things, the ADA defines a "disability" as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more . . . major life activities," 42 U. S. C. 12102(2)(A), or as "being regarded as having such an impairment," 12102(2)(C). The District Court dismissed petitioners' complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court held that petitioners were not actually disabled under subsection (A) of the disability definition because they could fully correct their visual impairments. The court also determined that petitioners were not "regarded" by respondent as disabled under subsection (C) of this definition. Petitioners had alleged only that respondent regarded them as unable to satisfy the requirements of a particular job, global airline pilot. These allegations were insufficient to state a claim that petitioners were regarded as substantially limited in the major life activity of working. Employing similar logic, the Tenth Circuit affirmed.

Held: Petitioners have not alleged that they are "disabled" within the

ADA's meaning. Pp. 477-494.

(a) No agency has been delegated authority to interpret the term "disability" as it is used in the ADA. The EEOC has, nevertheless, issued regulations that, among other things, define "physical impairment" to mean "[a]ny physiological disorder . . . affecting . . . special sense organs," "substantially limits" to mean "[u]nable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform," and "[m]ajor [l]ife [a]ctivities [to] mea[n] functions such as . . . working." Because both parties accept these regulations as valid, and determining their validity is not necessary to decide this


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