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A video services company fired Kent Furnish for poor job performance due to problems ranging from weak communication skills to frequent breakdowns of the systems he installed. Furnish claimed the company actually fired him because he had been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B and liver disease.

Furnish's claim of discrimination didn't get anywhere because the courts said he didn't qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He claimed the disease impaired the functioning of his liver.

But under the ADA, even a serious illness like hepatitis B doesn't define a disability. Only when the impact of the illness substantially limits a major life activity, like working, is a person considered disabled.

In Furnish's case, liver function isn't the type of major life activity covered under the ADA. Furnish had a difficult time claiming that his liver problem affected his ability to work because he had missed only 12 hours of work during the past year. His doctor said that after treatment his liver function was adequate, and he was never given special travel restrictions. (Furnish v. SVI Systems Inc., No. 99-2431, 7th Cir., 2001)

Advice: Not every serious medical condition equals a disability. With courts continuing to define what the ADA does and does not cover, take the time to analyze each case. Refer to the U.S. Supreme Court's three-part test for determining whether someone is disabled under the ADA. To qualify, the worker must:

  • Suffer from a physical or mental impairment.
  • Claim limitation in a major life activity under the ADA.
  • Be substantially limited in that major life activity.

More information about the ADA requirements is available from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, www.eeoc.gov, (800) 669-4000 or (202)663-4900. To order the book You and the ADA, published by the National Institute of Business Management, visit www.nibm.net or call (800) 543-2055.

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