button Vol. 5
No. 3
Winter 1999

line INSIDE line

Workplace Romance -
How About a "Love Contract"?
line 'Right to Organize'
- THE Hot Labor Issue To Test Candidates in the Year 2000, Says Sweeney
line Disgruntled Workers Air Corporate 'Dirty Laundry'
on Internet World Wide Web Sites
line Supreme Court Rulings and ADA, 1999 Review
line Answers about Employee Break Periods
line BCG Has a New Address! line Briefs

Braun Consulting News
News on Personnel, Labor Relations and Benefits

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button Supreme Court Rulings and ADA, 1999 Review

1998-99 term ends with narrowed definition of a qualified disability under the ADA.

The U.S. Supreme Court 1998-99 term ended with a narrowing of the definition of a qualified disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Excluding conditions corrected by mitigating measures (e.g., eyeglasses, hearing aids, and medication) helped to clarify these issues for employers.

Here is a list of some of the important ADA points highlighted by this year's Supreme Court rulings.

  • The existence of an impairment does not equate to a disability; the impairment must be substantially limiting... a mitigated impairment is not substantially limiting.
  • Use of a mitigating measure does not automatically remove an individual from under the ADA umbrella. First, an individual may still be substantially limited despite the mitigating measure. Second, the individual may be regarded as substantially limited.
  • Disability determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Mitigating measures must be considered because ignoring the negative effects of the measures would violate the ADA's individualized inquiry requirement.
  • Employers may decide what "physical characteristics or medical conditions that do not rise to the level of an impairment... are preferable to others," just as they ma "decide that some limiting, but not substantially limiting, impairments make individuals less than ideally suited for a job."
  • The ADA allows employers to use standards that screen out, or tend to screen out, individuals with disabilities if the standards are job-related, consistent with business necessity, and cannot be fulfilled by reasonable accommodation.
  • No ADA disability exists for correctable impairment.
  • An employer may rely on federal safety standards in refusing to accommodate.
  • An employer does not need to accommodate by participating in an experimental program for the waiver of safety standards.
  • Under Title VII, plaintiffs may recover punitive damages without showing an egregious violation, but the employer's good faith attempts at compliance may be a defense.
  • The receipt of disability benefits does not necessarily bar an Americans with Disabilities Act claim.

More Details

Impairment Must Be Viewed in Corrected State

It was ruled that the determination whether an individual is disabled should be made with reference to measures, such as eyeglasses, that mitigate the claimant's impairment. In the majority's opinion in the ruling, the "guidelines' directive that persons be judged in their uncorrected or unmitigated state runs directly counter to the individualized inquiry mandated by the ADA."

The court ruled that the ADA allows employers to set physical requirements so long as they do not automatically disqualify those with substantially limiting impairments. The court also held that an employer's physical criteria are permissible so long as they do not cause the employer to make an employment decision based on an impairment, real or imagined, that is or is regarded as substantially limiting a major life activity.

Other Job Possibilities Negate Disability

The majority clarified that the use of corrective measures does not automatically remove the individual from ADA protection: Rather, one has a disability ... if, notwithstanding the use of a corrective device, that individual is substantially limited in a major life activity. For example, individuals who use prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs may be mobile and capable of functioning in society but still be disabled because of a substantial limitation on their ability to walk or run. The same may be true of individuals who take medicine to lessen the symptoms of an impairment so that they can function but nevertheless remain substantially limited.

The pertinent question is whether, notwithstanding the corrections, "the limitations an individual with an impairment actually faces are in fact substantially limiting."

Answers to Common Questions about Employee Break PeriodsNext Page

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