In the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Congress forced a broader interpretation of disabilities under the Act. Now, several years later, the new law has been litigated and interpreted more authoritatively. The result is better coverage for more types of disabilities.
This article by TELG managing principal R. Scott Oswald and David L. Scher was published by Bloomberg BNA Daily Labor Report on April 25, 2014. The full article is available as a PDF on our site.
After Five Years, Some Authoritative Case Law on the ADAAA’s Broad Sweep
Until 2008, when Congress finally stepped in, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed determined to hobble the Americans with Disabilities Act, repeatedly limiting the statute’s reach so that only narrow categories of conditions counted as "disabilities."
In major cases such as Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 9 AD Cases 673 (1999) (120 DLR AA-1, 6/23/99), and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 12 AD Cases 993 (2002) (6 DLR AA-1, 1/9/02), the court left many people without recourse after being fired for having conditions that their employers could, and should, have accommodated.
In Toyota, for instance, the Supreme Court adopted an overly strict construction of the term "disability" and suggested that the ADA did not cover temporary impairments. In Sutton, the court asked lower courts to consider, in determining whether certain conditions "substantially limit" a major life activity, whether plaintiffs could mitigate the effect themselves (via eyeglasses, for instance, or drugs)—even if, as in Sutton, the employer treated such mitigating measures as a job disqualification.