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Disability Discrimination

Restrictions On Ada Application

Defining Disability In Sutton v. United Airlines, 527 U.S. 471, 119 S.Ct 2139, 144 L.Ed.2d 450 (1999), the U.S. Supreme Court held that for the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act, whether a person has a disability is to be determined based on the person's condition when that person uses corrective measures. The case concerned two women who had been denied positions as airline pilots because they each had extremely poor vision when they were not wearing glasses. The Court held that because the women had perfect vision when wearing glasses, they were not disabled and thus not protected by the ADA. It stated that "if a person is taking measures to correct for, or mitigate, a physical or mental impairment, the effects of those measures, both positive and negative, must be taken into account when judging whether that person is substantially limited in a major life activity and thus disabled under the [ADA]." That is, to determine whether someone is disabled, ask whether her physical or mental impairment, when mitigated by medication or other corrective devices, substantially limits her ability to perform major life activities.

In Toyota Motor Manufacturing v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 122 S.Ct. 681, 151 L.Ed.2d 615 (U.S., Jan 8, 2002) (NO. 00-1089), the high court further narrowed the standard for establishing that one has a disability covered under the ADA. In that case, Ella Williams, an assembly line worker in a Toyota automobile-manufacturing plant, developed severe carpal tunnel syndrome from her job. Her physician imposed limitations on her manual activities, disqualifying her from most of the assembly jobs in the plant. Toyota eventually accommodated her by assigning her to a lighter-duty unit but later required her to rotate to an additional job station, where she had to work at regular intervals with her hands and arms above shoulder height. Her disabling symptoms reappeared and worsened, but her request to be returned to her original accommodation was denied. She became unable to work and lost her job soon afterward. The court ruled that under the ADA, the inability to perform occupation-specific tasks does not necessarily mean that employee is substantially limited in performing a major life activity.

Damage Limitations In Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181, 122 S.Ct. 2097, 153 L.Ed.2d 230 (U.S., Jun 17, 2002) (NO. 01-682), the U.S. Supreme Court declared that persons excluded by local governments from programs funded with federal dollars may not receive punitive damages, no matter how egregious the discrimination that they have suffered. In that case, Jeffrey Gorman, who was confined to a wheelchair, was arrested one night in Kansas City, Missouri, and transported in a city police van that did not have the right equipment to take him safely. He sustained serious injuries, which prevented him from further gainful employment. At trial, the jury learned that the police department had failed to comply with the Rehabilitation Act since its passage in 1973, and even worse, it had done nothing after Gorman was hurt to prevent further injuries. A federal appeals court upheld the jury's damages award of more than $2 million. Local officials appealed the punitive damages portion, about half the total award, to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that punitive damages for disability discrimination could bankrupt city governments. Several groups, including AARP, pointed out that in Gorman's case, and other instances of egregious, intentional discrimination, punitive damages serve the worthy goals of deterring illegal conduct and compensating victims for their unneeded suffering. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed in a decision reflecting that neither the Rehabilitation Act nor the ADA permits an award of punitive damages in cases of access to public services.

Eleventh Amendment Issues In University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 121 S.Ct. 955, 148 L.Ed.2d 866 (U.S.Ala., Feb 21, 2001) (NO. 99-1240), Respondents Garrett and Ash filed separate lawsuits against petitioners, Alabama state employers, seeking money damages under Title I of the ADA. In an opinion disposing of both cases, the District Court found that the ADA exceeds Congress's authority to abrogate the State's ELEVENTH AMENDMENT IMMUNITY. The Eleventh Circuit reversed on the ground that the ADA validly abrogates such immunity. The U.S. Supreme Court held that suits in federal court by state employees to recover money damages by reason of the state's failure to comply with Title I of the ADA are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Directed Verdict to Do Not Attempt Resuscitation order (DNAR order)Disability Discrimination - Rehabilitation Act Of 1973, Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Architectural Barriers Act, Americans With Disabilities Act