ADA Amendments Make It Easier to Establish Disability Discrimination

ADA Amendments Make it Easier to Establish Disability Discrimination

There are several federal laws that protect individuals from discrimination based on certain protected categories, including qualified disabilities. Specifically, individuals with disabilities are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, also known as the "ADA." This very important anti-discrimination law prohibits employers from discriminating against "qualified" individuals with disabilities with regard to employment decisions. This prohibition includes job application procedures, hiring and firing practices and policies, promotions, discipline, compensation, job training and many other "terms, conditions and privileges of employment."

What is the purpose of the amendments?

One of the main purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act ("ADAAA") is the reinstatement of a "broad scope of protection" by expanding the definition of the term "disability." Congress recognized that individuals with certain types of impairments (e.g., epilepsy, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, major depression, and bipolar disorder) had been unable to bring ADA claims because they did not to meet the ADA's definition of "disability." Congress believed, however, that individuals with these and other impairments should be covered under the ADA.

The Definition of Disability Has Changed

This original act was passed in 1990. Much has changed in the area of disability in the last 20 years, and the legislature determined that the ADA needed to be changed in order to be applicable to the current concepts of disability. So, in 2008, Congress passed the ADAAA.

Under the ADA, an individual is considered to have a disability if they meet one of the following requirements:

  • Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Have a record of such an impairment; or
  • Are regarded as having such an impairment.

The new law (ADAAA) made a number of significant changes to the definition of "disability" under the original Americans with Disabilities Act. Those changes also required the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to amend its ADA regulations to reflect them. The final regulations were published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2011.

Congress has essentially made it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the statute. The ADAAA states that the definition of disability should be interpreted broadly in favor of coverage.

The standard required to establish a "substantial limitation" has been lowered

With the ADA Amendments, the term "substantially limits" now requires a lower degree of functional limitation than previously applied. An impairment no longer needs to prevent or severely/significantly restrict a major life activity to be considered "substantially limiting." Furthermore, this determination necessarily requires an individualized assessment.

Discrimination based on being "regarded as" disabled is easier to prove

The ADAAA and its regulations now make it easier to establish coverage under the "regarded as" portion of the definition as mentioned above. Previously, numerous court decisions made it difficult for individuals to establish coverage under the "regarded as" prong. Now, under the ADAAA, the focus is on how the person was 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.

If you have any questions or concerns about your employer's requirements related to the ADA, or any other issue regarding your employment, feel free to contact our firm either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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