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Seventh Circuit Says HIV Not Automatically ADA Disability

    Client Alerts
  • October 17, 2008

The new ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was enacted in part due to a belief that federal courts were reading the ADA’s definition of a qualified individual with a disability too narrowly.  A new decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates how changes in the ADA may affect future litigation.  In EEOC v. Lee’s Log Cabin, Inc., the plaintiff applied for a waitress position at the defendant’s restaurant.  During her interview, she disclosed that she was HIV-positive.  The employer failed to hire her, purportedly due to a lifting restriction.  The EEOC sued on her behalf under the ADA, alleging that the reason given for rejecting the application was pretext, and that the real reason was her HIV-positive status.  In a 2-1 decision, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer.  As part of its reasoning, the court concluded that asymptomatic HIV status was not a disability in this case, because the plaintiff failed to introduce evidence of an impairment of a major life activity.  In response, the plaintiff cited the Supreme Court’s 1998 Bragdon decision.  In this case, asymptomatic HIV was found to be an ADA disability because the plaintiff alleged that the disease inhibited her reproductive abilities, a major life function.  In this case, the majority of the Seventh Circuit distinguished Bragdon by noting that the plaintiff in this case never introduced any such evidence.  The court said that HIV-positive status is not a per se disability, and that the plaintiff must still demonstrate an impairment.

This decision does not state why the EEOC did not allege that the employer violated the ADA by regarding the plaintiff as disabled due to fear of her disease.  Regardless, this decision may have been different had the ADA Amendments Act’s changes been in place when the suit was filed.  Under the new law, the plaintiff would have an easier time demonstrating that HIV results in a significant impairment of the immune system.  This alone should meet the new definition of disability under the ADA.