Albertson's, Inc. v. Kirkingburg, 527 U.S. 555 (1999)

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

No. 98-591. Argued April 28, 1999—Decided June 22, 1999

Before beginning a truckdriver's job with petitioner, Albertson's, Inc., in 1990, respondent, Kirkingburg, was examined to see if he met the Department of Transportation's basic vision standards for commercial truckdrivers, which require corrected distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 in each eye and distant binocular acuity of at least 20/40. Although he has amblyopia, an uncorrectable condition that leaves him with 20/200 vision in his left eye and thus effectively monocular vision, the doctor erroneously certified that he met the DOT standards. When his vision was correctly assessed at a 1992 physical, he was told that he had to get a waiver of the DOT standards under a waiver program begun that year. Albertson's, however, fired him for failing to meet the basic DOT vision standards and refused to rehire him after he received a waiver. Kirkingburg sued Albertson's, claiming that firing him violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). In granting summary judgment for Albertson's, the District Court found that Kirkingburg was not qualified without an accommodation because he could not meet the basic DOT standards and that the waiver program did not alter those standards. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that Kirkingburg had established a disability under the Act by demonstrating that the manner in which he sees differs significantly from the manner in which most people see; that although the ADA allowed Albert-son's to rely on Government regulations in setting a job-related vision standard, Albertson's could not use compliance with the DOT regulations to justify its requirement because the waiver program was a legitimate part of the DOT's regulatory scheme; and that although Albert-son's could set a vision standard different from the DOT's, it had to justify its independent standard and could not do so here.


1. The ADA requires monocular individuals, like others claiming the Act's protection, to prove a disability by offering evidence that the extent of the limitation on a major life activity caused by their impairment is substantial. The Ninth Circuit made three missteps in determining that Kirkingburg's amblyopia meets the ADA's first definition of disability, i. e., a physical or mental impairment that "substantially limits" a major life activity, 42 U. S. C. 12101(2)(A). First,


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