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Albertson’s, Inc. v. Kirkingburg

United States Supreme Court
527 U.S. 555 (1999)


In August 1990, interstate grocery-store chain Albertson’s, Inc. (Albertson’s) (defendant) hired Hallie Kirkingburg (plaintiff) to work as a commercial truck driver. Kirkingburg had 10 years of relevant experience and successfully completed a road test for one of Albertson’s transportation supervisors. Albertson’s required its drivers to meet basic vision standards set and mandated by the United States Department of Transportation (DoT) for interstate commercial truck drivers. Kirkingburg suffered from an uncorrectable vision condition in one eye. Nonetheless, a doctor erroneously concluded that Kirkingburg met the DoT’s basic standard, and Kirkingburg began working for Albertson’s. The following year, Kirkingburg sustained an injury and took a leave of absence. In December 1992, before Kirkingburg returned to work, Albertson’s again required that he undergo a physical examination to ensure he met the basic DoT vision standards. This time, a doctor correctly found that he did not. In July 1992, the DoT had begun an experimental waiver scheme for which commercial truck drivers who otherwise failed the agency’s vision standards could apply if they satisfied certain criteria, such as clean driving records for a specified period of time. Kirkingburg applied for the waiver, but Albertson’s fired him, because he didn’t meet the DoT’s basic vision standard. After Kirkingburg left, he was granted a DoT waiver, but Albertson’s declined to rehire him. Kirkingburg sued Albertson’s under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., alleging unlawful disability discrimination. The court of appeals held that because the DoT had begun granting waivers to its basic visual acuity standard, Albertson’s had to do more than just rely on the objective standard itself in making employment decisions; it had to engage in a more searching inquiry about the availability of a reasonable accommodation to justify a refusal to hire or rehire a particular employee. Albertson’s sought review by the United States Supreme Court, which was granted.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Souter, J.)

Concurrence (Thomas, J.)

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