Ragged Edge Online




Story on ruling from D. R. Nation

Disability advocates respond in early days to ruling

Coverage and opinion from selected U.S. newspapers



Disability rights attorney Amy Robertson reminds us that while the Garrett decision was a setback, all is not lost:

States Must Still Comply with the ADA

The Supreme Court's decision in Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, (No. 99-1240)(Feb. 21, 2001), did one thing: It held that lawsuits under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act for damages against states are unconstitutional.

With this one exception, the ADA is very much alive, even against states and other public entities.

In their Feb. 21 ruling against Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, five Supreme Court justices said there were only "unexamined, anecdotal accounts of adverse, disparate treatment by state officials." Over 100 historians and scholars beg to differ. They compiled a large collection of state statutes, session laws, and constitutional provisions that illustrate pervasive state-sponsored discrimination against persons with disabilities, dating from the late 19th century to the present.
Read document
Read an overview.

1. Title II of the ADA was not affected by this decision and individuals can still sue for injunctive relief and damages under that part of the statute;

2. Even under the rationale of the Garrett decision, individuals can still sue for injunctive relief -- that is, an order -- requiring a state to comply with the ADA; and

3. Individuals can still sue local governments and other non-state public entities both for injunctive relief and for damages.

The Decision Only Covers Title I: Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment; Title II prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities. Although the parties to Garrett had originally asked the Supreme Court to decide both Title I and Title II, the Court only decided Title I, and explicitly stated, "We are not disposed to decide the constitutional issue whether Title II, which has somewhat different remedial provisions from Title I, is appropriate legislation under 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment . . ." Slip op. at 2 n.1. What this means is that the result of the Garrett decision only impacts state employment practices. All other facets of state government activity are unaffected by this opinion. It is true that some courts may hold that the logic of today's decision applies to Title II as well, although there are very good reasons why the Supreme Court might analyze Title II differently and come to the conclusion that damages suits are available under that title. But even if Title II is treated as Title I was in Garrett -- that is, if damages suits are held to be unconstitutional -- suits for injunctive relief against states and all lawsuits against local governments are still very much alive.

An Individual Can Still Sue a State for an Injunction Requiring Compliance with the ADA: The Supreme Court -- through footnote 9 of the Garrett decision -- made clear that "Title I of the ADA still prescribes standards applicable to the States. Those standards can be enforced . . . by private individuals in actions for injunctive relief." Slip op. at 16 n.9. If the logic of Garrett is extended to Title II, naturally this exception will also apply. What this means is that

  • states will still have to comply with the ADA;
  • people with disabilities can sue states for failing to comply with the ADA; and
  • courts can order states to comply with the ADA.
  • The upshot of Garrett is simply that the plaintiffs can't recover damages. This is so important it bears repeating: States are still required to comply with the ADA.

    In particular, states are required to comply with the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), which requires states to provide services in the most integrated setting. It also means that states must still provide reasonable accommodations in the employment context, that they must still build new buildings to be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, that they must provide full program access at state colleges and universities and that they must otherwise fully comply with the ADA and its implementing regulations.

    Individuals can sue for injunctive relief and damages against local governments and other non-state public entities: The Garrett decision also made clear that immunity from damages suits "does not extend . . . to units of local government" (Slip op. at 11). What this means is that lawsuits for both injunctions and damages are still available against local governments and public entities that are not the state. This would include, for example, regional transportation districts, county governments, quasi-governmental corporations, and the like.

    Amy Robertson is a partner in the disability law firm Fox & Robertson.



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