Join me in wishing the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) a happy twenty-fifth birthday!
Even after all these years, the continued and substantial impact the ADA has on Americans for is commendable. President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA—one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation—into law on July 26, 1990. By prohibiting discrimination against disabled persons, the ADA aims to guarantee the same opportunities to participate in mainstream American life as those not afflicted.
After its enactment, however, and true to congressional form, widespread confusion arose on what conditions were considered “disabilities” under the ADA. Indeed, the ADA does not specifically list all covered impairments and defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Trying to lend a hand, the Supreme Court issued a number of decisions dealing with the ADA's coverage that, in reality, had the opposite effect. By 2008, the definition of “disability” under the ADA became so obscure that congress stepped in to pass the ADA Amendments Act (“ADAAA”). The ADAAA emphasized that “disability” should cover individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA, thus making it easier for an individual seeking ADA protection to establish that he or she has a disability.
Despite its twenty-five years of existence and the guidance offered by the ADAAA, some public entities and private businesses still have policies and procedures in place that violate the ADA. Enter, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the key enforcement agency for ADA compliance. As recently as last month, the DOJ settled ADA-related lawsuits with the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (“UM”) and Carnival Corporation, owner of the esteemed Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Holland America Line (“Carnival”).
For its alleged ADA violations—requiring two disabled employees to compete for available positions and thereafter denying them reassignment as an accommodation for their disabilities—UM will pay approximately $215,000. UM must also modify its reassignment and transfer policies to make them ADA compliant.
Carnival faced a wide ranging ADA complaint alleging that it failed to, among other things, reasonably modify policies and procedures to accommodate disabled individuals, provide accessible cabins to mobility disabled individuals, and afford disabled persons the same opportunities to participate in cruising programs and services. To right these ADA-wrongs, Carnival will pay the complainants $350,000 in damages, plus a $55,000 civil penalty. Like with UM, Carnival must also implement corrective measures to ensure future compliance with the ADA.
Twenty-five years after its enactment, the ADA still actively permeates our daily lives. Those that refuse to comply with its mandates risk facing the wrath of the DOJ. To avoid DOJ interference, employers must be mindful of the protections afforded by the ADA and understand how those protections apply to qualifying employees. Maintaining up-to-date policies and procedures is the backbone of any ADA compliance initiative.
Farhang & Medcoff, PLLC has extensive experience in labor and employment matters, including ADA compliance. Please contact us if you have any labor or employment legal needs—we are ready to protect your interests.