The Americans with Disabilities Act, Which Protects New Jersey Workers Against Employment Discrimination, Turns 25

Drano_Lake_accessible_fishing_platform_signage.jpgThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The ADA helps ensure that people with disabilities have access to public buildings, public transportation, and private businesses considered “public accommodations.” It also protects disabled workers against discrimination and requires employers to provide them with reasonable accommodations. The difficulty tends to come in the applicability of the ADA’s definition of “disabled” to a particular worker, or the reasonableness of a requested accommodation under its specific circumstances. It is worth taking a moment to review the ADA and the ways it has been interpreted and adapted over the years.

In numerous ways, the ADA has literally changed the landscape of the country. Title II of the ADA requires government buildings and public transportation to allow access by disabled individuals. This might include wheelchair ramps, elevators, or assistance for people with impaired vision or hearing. Title III establishes similar requirements for “public accommodations”–private businesses that offer products or services to the general public, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, grocery stores, gas stations, bus depots, libraries, parks, schools, day care centers, and golf courses. 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7). Title IV requires telecommunications service providers to make services available to people with hearing and speech impairments. 47 U.S.C. § 225.

Title I of the ADA prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled workers. Title V includes a prohibition on retaliation for asserting rights under any of the ADA’s provisions. Congress has added to the ADA’s protections with subsequent laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which both became law in 2008.

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued multiple rulings interpreting Title I. Several cases have examined what plaintiffs must show to establish a claim for employment discrimination:

Sutton v. United Air Lines, 527 U.S. 471 (1999): The court held that the plaintiffs, twin sisters with “severe myopia,” id. at 475, did not establish that they were “disabled” for purposes of the ADA, since they were able to mitigate their conditions with corrective eyewear.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002): The court examined the meaning of the ADA’s term “substantially impairs.” It reversed an appellate court ruling finding the plaintiff disabled because she was unable to perform specific job-related tasks. The court held that her ability to perform most other tasks, such as household chores, weighed against a disability finding.
US Airways v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (2002): In general, an employer may conclude that a requested accommodation is not reasonable if it conflicts with existing seniority rules. The employee requesting the accommodation, however, may present evidence of “special circumstances” making that particular exception reasonable. Id. at 394.
Chevron U.S.A. v. Echazabal, 536 U.S. 73 (2002): Title I of the ADA does not prohibit an employer from “refusing to hire an individual because his performance on the job would endanger his own health, owing to a disability.” Id. at 76.

The court has also, however, allowed plaintiffs to pursue multiple avenues for relief. For example, in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp., 526 U.S. 795 (1999), an individual’s application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, which requires proof of an inability to work, did not necessarily estop them from simultaneously asserting a claim under Title I of the ADA, in which they must assert that they can “perform the essential functions” of their job, 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8).

If you need to speak to a disability discrimination attorney in New Jersey or New York contact the Resnick Law Group today through our website, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Judge Awards Attorney’s Fees and Costs to Plaintiff in Medical Leave Lawsuit, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 4, 2015
Plaintiffs in Genetic Information Discrimination Case Obtain $2.2 Million Verdict Against Employer, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, August 24, 2015
EEOC Examines Risk of Discrimination in Wellness Programs Offered by Employers Under the Affordable Care Act, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, May 27, 2015
Photo credit: By USFWS Pacific [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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