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ADA Amendments Act brings back substance, effect of original ADA

Posted On: Aug. 16, 2015 12:00 AM CST

ADA Amendments Act brings back substance, effect of original ADA

While the Americans with Disabilities Act has celebrated its 25th anniversary, in some respects it is only 6 years old, the age of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008.

That is because the original law was largely undermined by three U.S. Supreme Court decisions, some observers say.

Two 1999 rulings, Vaughn L. Murphy v. United Parcel Service Inc. and Karen L. Sutton and Kimberley Hinton v. United Airlines Inc., held that plaintiffs with disabilities that can be mitigated with corrective lenses or medication cannot sue for alleged discrimination under the ADA.

This was followed by the January 2002 ruling in Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc. v. Ella Willis, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a worker's inability to perform a certain job activity does not necessarily mean the worker is disabled and entitled to ADA protection.

In response, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which took effect in January 2009, to expand the definition of disability under the ADA.

While the Supreme Court rulings left a gap in ADA, the Amendments Act resulted in “a resurgence of ADA effectiveness,” said Chai R. Feldblum, commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Before the 2008 law, “the courts were finding that virtually nobody had a disability, so ADA claims were just getting thrown out right and left,” said Robin F. Shea, a partner at law firm Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete L.L.P. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

But with the 2008 law, most of the time, companies “just admit there's a disability and move straight on to the reasonable accommodation process,” Ms. Shea said.