WASHINGTON Ida L. Castro, Chairwoman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), said today that Supreme Court decisions this term on employment-related issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide the Commission with favorable law, as well as significant challenges.
Her remarks to the 10th Annual Convention of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) in New Orleans followed this term's landmark ADA decisions by the Supreme Court in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems, Sutton v. United Airlines, Murphy v. United Parcel Service, and Albertsons v. Kirkingburg.
In Sutton and Murphy, the Court ruled that impairments should be evaluated in their corrected or "mitigated" state to determine whether they are disabilities under Title I of the ADA, the section prohibiting employment discrimination. Ms. Castro said that while the rulings "appear to significantly narrow the scope of those covered under the ADA, the Court affirmed EEOC's standard of an individualized approach to the assessment of coverage under the ADA. In other words, the determination of whether an individual can bring a claim under the ADA should be assessed on a case-by-case basis."
Moreover, Ms. Castro pointed out that the Court agreed with the Commission's position on several key points. "First the Court clearly stated that people who use mitigating measures may still be substantially limited in major life activities and thus may enjoy the protection of the ADA. This is so because the Court indicated that people who use mitigating measures may, in spite of or because of those mitigating measures, be substantially limited in a major life activity."
"Second," she continued, "the Court did not suggest that any conditions are per se excluded from coverage under the ADA. And third, the Court did not disturb the principle that employers are required, as before, to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and may not otherwise discriminate against them."
In addition, Ms. Castro noted that the Supreme Court's ruling in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems provided the Commission and the plaintiffs bar with a favorable ruling. "In Cleveland, the Court unanimously agreed with the long-held view of the EEOC that people who seek or obtain disability benefits are not necessarily precluded from bringing claims under the ADA," she said. "In plain language, people who have applied for or are receiving disability benefits are not prohibited from pursuing their ADA rights."
Ms. Castro added: "In essence, all these points will be considered by the Commission as we move forward in assessing the impact of the Court's ADA decisions this term. Toward this end, I have directed EEOC staff to proceed with several important actions." Among other steps, she requested staff:
"Clearly, a thoughtful and strategic approach to ADA enforcement will enable the Commission and plaintiffs bar to honor the principles upon which the ADA was built, while adhering to the construction of the statute provided by the Supreme Court," said Ms. Castro.
EEOC enforces Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments. Since the Act was implemented on July 26, 1992, EEOC has received and resolved over 100,000 ADA charges and obtained monetary benefits of more than $211 million for charging parties. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site (www.eeoc.gov).
This page was last modified on July 1, 1999.
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