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School Board of Nassau County v. Arline

Supreme Court of the United States
480 U.S. 273 (1987)


Facts

Gene Arline (plaintiff) was an elementary school teacher. Arline suffered from tuberculosis. Arline experienced three separate relapses of her disease, each of which caused her to be hospitalized. After Arline’s third relapse, her school (defendant) suspended her with pay for the remainder of the school year. At the end of the school year, the school decided to discharge Arline. The facts made it clear that Arline was fired solely because of the continued reoccurrence of her tuberculosis. Arline argued that her illness qualified her as a handicapped person under federal law. Thus, Arline contended, she was protected from being fired because of her disease. The trial court held that Arline was not a handicapped individual under the definition of the law, and, even if she were handicapped, she was not qualified to teach elementary school. The appeals court reversed, holding that people with contagious diseases were within the coverage of the law, and that Arline fell within the protected category. The appeals court remanded the case to determine whether the risks of infection precluded Arline from otherwise being qualified for her job. The case was then presented to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)

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