Published January, 2002

Blanks v. Southwestern Bell Communications, Inc., 310 F.3d 398 (5th Cir. 2002)

In this opinion, the Fifth Circuit held that an HIV-positive man who brought a claim of employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was not “disabled” within the meaning of the statute. Under the ADA, a plaintiff is considered disabled if they can demonstrate one of the following: (1) a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual; (2) a record of such an impairment; or (3) that the plaintiff is regarded as having such an impairment. The court held that, while the plaintiff was physically impaired, the plaintiff failed to demonstrate how any of his major life activities were impaired. Specifically, because the plaintiff had children in the past and did not want to have any additional children, his major life activity of reproduction was not impaired. Because the plaintiff asserted he was willing and able to do nearly any job for the employer, the court found that he was not substantially limited in the major life activity of working. The plaintiff argued that he was regarded as having a disability as evidenced by a statement by a coordinator of his work that the plaintiff had a disability that would never allow him to work in his previous position. The court found that the fact that the coordinator tried to put him in several alternate positions demonstrated that she did not find the plaintiff substantially impaired in his ability to work.

This holding may be called into doubt by the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), effective January 1, 2009. The ADAAA significantly relaxes the proof required to demonstrate one is “regarded as” disabled. To satisfy the "regarded as" standard an individual need only show that he or she has been subjected to an adverse action—such as termination—because of an actual or perceived impairment. It is no longer necessary that the impairment be perceived by the employer to limit or "substantially limit" a major life activity.