Supreme Court shows lack of understanding of ADA

The Supreme Court, in its June 22 decisions on three employment cases under the Americans with Disabilities Act, has ignored the extensive legislative history of the law and has chosen to set limits on the number of us who can claim its protections.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing the dissent in case Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., refers to the court's "crabbed vision of the territory covered by this important statute" and suggests that "the court has been cowed" by the "persistent argument," which has been a constant refrain in stories about the ADA, that a "generous" construction of the law "will lead to a tidal wave of lawsuits."

None of the three cases -- Sutton, Murphy or Albertsons -- were about whether people had encountered actual situations of discrimination based on disability. All of them were about whether they had a right to use the law. Were they "disabled" as the law meant it?

Does the ADA allow people to claim its protections "in the in the same way as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does for every single individual in the work force?" to quote Justice John Paul Stevens.

The Court, in an erroneous interpretation of our nation's Americans with Disabilities Act civil right statute, has said "no."

In Murphy v. United Parcel Service, the Court says that something like high blood pressure which is being treated isn't a disability -- even though The Report of the House Committee on Education and Labor on the bill in Congress stated plainly that "persons with impairments, such as epilepsy or diabetes, which substantially limit a major life activity are covered under ...the definition of disability, even if the effects of the impairment are controlled by medication."

"The Court's approach," says Stevens, "would seem to allow an employer to refuse to hire every person who has epilepsy or diabetes that is controlled by medication -- or every person who functions efficiently with a prosthetic limb."

The effect of these rulings, experts predict, will be to deny the ADA's protections specifically to those people who have disabilities which can be corrected -- people who, with their disabilities corrected, are able to work. If then, they encounter discrimination from their bosses based on "stereotypic assumptions not truly indicative of the individual ability of such individuals to participate in, and contribute to, society," as the ADA itself puts it,. they will now have no recourse under a law passed by Congress protect them. The court rulings, ironically, will have the effect of keeping people with disabilities out of the workforce. Getting people with disabilities back into the workforce was a major aim of Congress when it passed the ADA.

In its June Title I rulings, the Court shows that a majority of its justices simply do not understand the ADA's intent or meaning.

"Congress "focused almost entirely on the problem of discrimination against African-Americans when it enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," wrote Stevens -- "but that narrow focus could not possibly justify a construction of the statute that excluded Hispanic-Americans or Asian-Americans" -- or, we later decided "ironically enough," he says -- Caucasians.

Using the racial analogy, the Title I rulings on disability would be as if the Court had ruled that only African-Americans could use the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ADA was designed as a "mandate for equality," says Professor Robert L. Burgdorf, Jr., who helped draft the original legislation. "Any person who's discriminated against by an employer because of a real disability -- or because the employer regards the person as being disabled, whether they are or not -- should be entitled to the law's protection.

Read more about the civil-rights nature of the law
Courts have not really accepted the premises of the ADA.
More on the ADA Supreme Court cases.


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