Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and ADA Amendment Act (“ADA-AA”)

Congress passed the ADA in 1990 to help people with disabilities overcome barriers to integrating into society, particularly with regard to access to employment opportunities, public facilities, and transportation services. After the Supreme Court handed down a narrow interpretation of the ADA, Congress enacted sweeping changes to the law in the form of the ADA-AA in 2008. The purpose of this amendment was to reverse the various court decisions that had narrowly construed the law and to provide “a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination” and “clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination” by broadening the protections available under the ADA.

The ADA has three main sections. Title I applies to employment, Title II to state and local government entities, and Title III to public accommodations, an umbrella category of businesses and services that are open to the public.

The definition of disability under the ADA includes three separate prongs: “actual” disability, “record of” disability,” and “regarded as” disability. “Actual” disability means a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” of an individual. The ADA does not expressly define “substantially limits,” but does state that it means something less than significant or severe limitation and that it intends for the term disability to be construed broadly.

The ADA stipulates that the question of whether an impairment is substantially limiting must be determined “without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures.” Mitigating measures include, but are not limited to, things that an individual may use to reduce, or even eliminate, the effects of an impairment, such as a medications or medical devices. The ADA-AA regards conditions that are episodic or in remission as disabilities if they would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

Because the ADA-AA has broadened the scope of coverage under the ADA so dramatically, the main question in today’s disability discrimination cases often is whether an employer has fulfilled its obligations toward disabled employees who are otherwise qualified. Under the ADA, a person with a disability is qualified to perform a job if he or she satisfies its main job-related requirements and can perform the job’s essential functions. For the most part, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified employees with disabilities who request them.

Reasonable accommodations under the ADA include are actions and modifications that do not create a safety threat or pose an undue hardship on an employer. They include, but are not limited to, things like job restructuring, a part-time or modified work schedule, use of leave, making facilities more accessible, and reassignment to a vacant position. Under the ADA-AA, courts have determined the following to be reasonable accommodations in certain circumstances: medical leave; flexible work schedules; teleworking; shifting job responsibilities when they are not essential functions and other workers can cover them; rest-and-recover breaks between assignments; working from a seated position; use of a lifting device; and a sign-language interpreter for meetings and trainings.

If you have a disability and believe that you were discriminated against by an employer on that basis, the Erlich Law Office can help you. As always, please contact us at (703) 791-9087 or visit our website at www.erlichlawoffice.com for a free consultation.