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ADA: Driving could be a major life activity

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Most federal appeals courts—including the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Florida employers—have concluded that driving is not a major life activity under the ADA. Thus a disability that simply impairs the ability to drive isn’t covered under the law.

But what if the inability to drive prevents someone from holding a wide range of jobs? Does that mean the individual is substantially impaired in the major life activity of working? According to one federal trial court considering a Florida case, the answer is yes.

Recent case: Since her daughter was born in 1975, Iris Irizarry has suffered from anxiety and panic attack disorders. She does not have a driver’s license.

Irizarry took a job as an education specialist with Head Start and had her husband drive her to her assignments. Then the employer changed the job description to include having a driver’s license as a minimum requirement. When Irizarry tried unsuccessfully to get a license, she was terminated.

She sued, alleging that she was disabled because her inability to drive meant she was significantly impaired in the ability to work. Not being able to drive, she argued, excluded her from a wide range of jobs she was otherwise qualified to do.

Her employer argued that the ability to drive is not a major life activity because millions of Americans get along just fine without a driver’s license.

The court agreed that driving isn’t a major life activity—unless it hinders the ability to work. It ordered a trial. (Irizarry v. Mid Florida Community Services, No. 8:08-CV-00454, MD FL, 2009)

Final note: The ADA requires employers to look individually at each employee’s disability. You can’t make a blanket assessment that someone who can’t drive isn’t disabled.

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