Senate Passes Amendment to Restore Americans With Disabilities Act to Protect Disabled Employees From Discrimination

On September 11, 2008, the Senate unanimously voted in favor of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. If it were to become law, the Act would “restore the intent and protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990” (the ADA) by protecting many more disabled individuals from discrimination. The ADA is a federal employment law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, both in the context of employment and places of public accommodation such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and day care centers. However, the ADA has been interpreted so narrowly that the vast majority of cases brought under it are dismissed, primarily because the individuals suing are unable to meet the statute’s definition of”disability.”

As discussed in a previous article, on June 25, 2008 the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a slightly different version of the ADA Amendments Act, called the ADA Restoration Act. If the House of Representatives approves the Senate’s version of the Act, which seems likely, then the President would need to sign it into law before it would go into effect.

The ADA Amendments Act would reverse many United States Supreme Court cases which have interpreted the ADA narrowly and limited the scope of its protection. For example, it would amend the ADA to make it clear that:

  • The ADA provides broad coverage to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of a disability, and it should be interpreted broadly.
  • An impairment is considered a disability if it substantially limits at least one major life activity, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.
  • An episodic impairment or an impairment in remission is still a disability if it substantially limits a major life activity when it is active.
  • It is improper to consider most “mitigating factors,” meaning measures such as medication, prosthetics, or other technology that reduce the impact of an impairment, when determining if an individual is disabled.
  • The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on the employer’s perception that the employee has a disability, even if the employee does not actually have a disability.

The employment law attorneys of Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, are experienced at representing employees in New Jersey, New York State, and New York City whose employment law rights have been violated.