Proving Diabetes is a Disability

Webinars

The American Diabetes Association has presented two free webinars on the changes made by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. The first webinar, in February 2009, focused on the statute itself, while the second, in April 2011, focused on the new regulations implementing the statutory changes. Both webinars are available for viewing at the links below.

Demonstrating Coverage under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 for People with Diabetes (PDF) (updated March 2012)
This article explains how to prove that a person with diabetes qualifies as a person with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act using the new legal standards included in the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and the EEOC regulations adopted in 2011 to implement that law. It contains both a detailed discussion of the science of diabetes and its management, and an explanation of how to use this science to demonstrate coverage under the ADA.

Background Materials on Diabetes and Functional Limitations for Lawyers Handling Diabetes Discrimination Cases (PDF)
(Shereen Arent, JD, and Brian Dimmick, JD) (December 2008)
This article explains how to prove that a person with diabetes qualifies as a person with a disability under disability discrimination laws, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act prior to its amendment in 2008. It begins with a discussion of the science of diabetes and then discusses how diabetes and its management can substantially limit specific major life activities.

Proving Diabetes is a Disability (PDF)
(Brian East, JD – Advocacy, inc.) (April 2007)
This article provides a detailed survey of which individuals are covered by federal disability discrimination laws, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act prior to its amendment in 2008. It discusses leading decisions dealing with a wide range of disabilities, and also highlights key diabetes cases.A version of this paper was presented at the Fourteenth Annual Convention of the National Employment Lawyers Association in June 2003.

Both “Too Sick and Not Sick Enough”: Building on ADA Decisions Involving Plaintiffs with Diabetes (PDF)
(Daniel B. Kohrman, JD, AARP Foundation Litigation) (June 2007)
This article discusses, with extensive examples from relevant case law, the Catch-22 that can be fatal to disability discrimination plaintiffs with diabetes under the law as it existed prior to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008: being too sick to be a qualified employee, but not sick enough to qualify for protection from disability discrimination under the law. The article also suggests strategies for plaintiffs with diabetes to overcome this obstacle.

EEOC Instructions for Field Offices Analyzing ADA Charges After Supreme Court Decisions Addressing "Disability and Qualified" (1999)
These instructions to EEOC field offices summarize several Supreme Court decisions related to the definition of who has a disability under the ADA and other issues, and explain their impact on the processing of charges under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Case Materials

Click on the links below to find information, including opinions and pleadings, in the following cases which addressed issues of coverage under the ADA.

Actual Disability Cases

Branham v. Snow
7 th Circuit held that plaintiff with type 1 diabetes could prove he had a disability, even though he was able to manage his diabetes well. Plaintiff ultimately prevailed at trial .

Fraser v. Goodale
9 th Circuit held that plaintiff with type 1 diabetes could prove she had a disability because her treatment regimen substantially limited her ability to eat.

Lawson v. CSX Transportation
7 th Circuit held that plaintiff with diabetes could prove he had a disability because of the rigorous nature of his treatment regimen, including his need to take insulin and check his blood glucose frequently.

Nawrot v. CPC International
7 th Circuit held that plaintiff with diabetes could prove he had a disability based in part on lack of success in keeping blood glucose levels within target range despite treatment.

Nordwall v. Sears
7 th Circuit affirmed summary judgment against plaintiff who has diabetes, finding that she failed to prove that she has a disability.

EEOC/Keane v. Sears
7 th Circuit twice reversed grants of summary judgment against plaintiff with diabetes, finding that the lower court had applied too strict a standard in determining what constitutes a substantial limitation.

“Regarded As” Disabled Cases

Rodriguez v. ConAgra Grocery Products
5 th Circuit granted summary judgment to plaintiff, finding that defendant regarded him as disabled based on statements by the company and its doctor about the dangers posed by plaintiff’s type 2 diabetes.

Davis v. Ozarks Electric Cooperative
Plaintiff was regarded as disabled based on statements made by the people who decided to terminate her showing unfounded fears about her safety on the job.

Johnston v. MidMichigan Medical Center
District court found plaintiff could show he was regarded as disabled based on evidence that plaintiff’s manager took steps to document performance problems after learning of his diabetes and assumed, without medical evidence, that all performance concerns were caused by diabetes.

EEOC/Armstrong v. Northwest Airlines
District court rejected motion for summary judgment against plaintiff with type 1 diabetes, finding that he could prove defendant regarded him as disabled based on statements by the company doctor about his “poorly controlled” diabetes. 

  • Last Reviewed: October 9, 2009
  • Last Edited: February 20, 2014