We would not be surprised if travel agency managements throughout
the nation uttered a collective sigh of relief when the Supreme
Court handed down three rulings recently that restrict the
protections afforded employees by the Americans With Disabilities
This is not to suggest that the people who own and operate
agencies harbor a desire to run roughshod over staffers who labor
effectively despite impairments or to shut the doors on hiring them
in the first place.
We do not think either is the case. The disabled already have
proved their worth in the marketplace of business, and the
travel-retailing sector is no exception.
Nevertheless, employers seeking clear guidelines on how to
operate legally under the disabilities act should be gratified that
the court has provided them with a comprehensive, if restrictive,
definition of who is covered and who is not.
By unexpectedly decisive 7-2 margins in the separate actions,
the court ruled that the law's protections generally do not cover
people who can function normally when they wear glasses or take
appropriate medications that mitigate their physical
Arguing for the majority in one of the three decisions, Sandra
Day O'Connor said, "An employer is free to decide that physical
characteristics or medical conditions that do not rise to the level
of an impairment ... are preferable to others, just as it is free
to decide that some limiting, but not substantially limiting,
impairments make individuals less than ideally suited for a
What does this mean to agency managers? Without question, the
decisions will expand their ability to orchestrate their shops'
employment practices while reducing their legal exposure to ADA
suits. What it does not mean -- and should not mean -- is that
employers can discriminate against the truly disabled.
After all, raising the bar on eligibility should not lower the
bar on protection for those legitimately covered.