Disability Discrimination Law Changes in Federal Courts

The federal ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) went into effect on January 1, 2009. The law changed the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Recent regulations reflect these changes.

It is easier to establish a disability under the law. Congress overturned several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed had interpreted the definition of “disability” too narrowly, resulting in a denial of protection disabilities such as cancer, diabetes, and epilepsy.

The regulations implement Congress’ intent to broadly interpret the law.  For example:

*The term “substantially limits” requires a lower degree of limitation than the standard previously applied by the courts. A disability need not restrict a major life activity.
*The term “substantially limits” must be read broadly to offer expansive coverage.
*Except for the use of eyeglasses or contact lenses, determining whether a disability substantially limits a major life activity must be made without regard to the helpful effects of treatment or medical devices, such as medication or hearing aids.
*An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

The regulations also make it easier for employees to sue for being perceived as having a disability when, in fact, they do not.  Several court decisions made it difficult for individuals to establish coverage under the “regarded as” prong of the law (that is, employees who are not disabled but still suffer discrimination).  The focus for establishing coverage is on how a person has been treated because of a physical or mental impairment, rather than on what an employer may have believed about the nature of the person’s impairment.

March 25, 2011 – Castronovo & McKinney – Paul Castronovo