Is driving a car a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? No, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently concluded, joining two other federal circuit courts that have held that just because a person cannot drive does not mean that person meets the legal definition of "disabled." Kellogg v. Energy Safety Services, Inc.
Kellogg, who has epilepsy, sued her employer alleging disability discrimination. Kellogg asserted that because she is not allowed to drive due to the risk of seizure, she is substantially limited in the major life activity of "driving." After Kellogg prevailed on her claim at a jury trial, The Tenth Circuit reversed. (The Tenth Circuit covers Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.)
The court held that driving is merely a "means to an end," and not a major life activity in and of itself. For some plaintiffs, an inability to drive may prevent them from engaging in other major life activities (such as working), but because Kellogg presented no evidence that she was substantially impaired in any activity except driving, she failed to prove she was "disabled." The Tenth Circuit thus joins both the Second and Eleventh Circuits in holding that driving is not a major life activity.
Don’t expect Kellogg to set precedent for long: this case almost certainly would have been decided differently under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), which goes into effect January 1, 2009. Under the much broader definition of "disability" under the ADAAA, Kellogg’s epilepsy alone almost certainly would have qualified her for the protections of the ADA. For more on the ADAAA, check out the Stoel Rives World of Employment’s coverage, here.