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Disabling Interpretations

Disabling Interpretations: The Americans With Disabilities Act In Federal Court

Susan Gluck Mezey
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Disabling Interpretations
    Book Description:

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was intended to send a clear message to society that discrimination on the basis of disability is unacceptable. As with most civil rights laws, the courts were given primary responsibility for implementing disability rights policy.

    Mezey argues that the act has not fulfilled its potential primarily because of the judiciary's "disabling interpretations" in adjudicating ADA claims. In the decade of litigation following the enactment of the ADA, judicial interpretation of the law has largely constricted the parameters of disability rights and excluded large numbers of claimants from the reach of the law. The Supreme Court has not interpreted the act broadly, as was intended by Congress, and this method of decision making was for the most part mirrored by the courts below. The high court's rulings to expand state sovereign immunity and insulate states from liability in damage suits has also caused claimants to become enmeshed in litigation and has encouraged defendants to challenge other laws affecting disability rights. Despite the law's strong civil rights rhetoric, disability rights remain an imperfectly realized goal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7279-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book examines judicial implementation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the nation’s newest civil rights law and its most far-reaching attempt to combat discrimination on the basis of disabilities. Centering on the role of the federal courts in disability rights policymaking in the United States, it also assesses the interaction among the courts, Congress, and subnational governments in the enforcement of civil rights guarantees for people with disabilities.

    The ADA has been extolled as “a milestone on the path to a more decent, tolerant, progressive society” (Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett2001,...

  2. 2 Disability Rights as Civil Rights
    (pp. 7-38)

    Applying the civil rights model to people with disabilities, Congress instituted a system of judicial review that placed the courts at the center of the implementation process, establishing the judiciary as the final arbiter of rights and responsibilities under the ADA.¹ Although Congress also assigned enforcement authority to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), advocates view litigation as “a primary tool” with which to secure disability rights (Switzer 2003, 131). Moreover, as Burris and Moss note (2000, 33–34), although only a proportion of potential ADA disputes are litigated to a final judicial resolution,...

  3. 3 Disability Rights and the Workplace
    (pp. 39-70)

    Title I, which took effect on July 26, 1992, applies to private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions; it prohibits discrimination “against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual” in hiring, firing, and promotion, as well as “other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment” (42 U.S.C. §12112(a)). A “qualified individual with a disability” is one “who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires” (42 U.S.C. §12111(8)).¹

    When a qualified employee or job applicant requests an accommodation, the...

  4. 4 Disability Rights and Public Entities
    (pp. 71-108)

    Title II applies to state and local governments and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), as well as any commuter authority designated in the Rail Passenger Service Act. It provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity” (42 U.S.C. §12132). The law requires government entities to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive or participate in programs, services, and activities, including recreation, social...

  5. 5 Disability Rights and Public Accommodations
    (pp. 109-140)

    Title III provides that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation” (42 U.S.C. §12182(a)). Derived from Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce, it identifies twelve types of facilities as public accommodations, including places of lodging, recreation, sales, education, and entertainment; within each category there are examples of businesses or enterprises such as hotels and inns; museums and libraries; restaurants...

  6. 6 Disability Rights and State Sovereignty
    (pp. 141-164)

    In recent years, Supreme Court decisionmaking has been guided by a “new federalism” jurisprudence that has expanded state sovereignty at the expense of the federal government’s policymaking and enforcement authority (see Cross and Tiller 2000; Farber 2000; Mezey 2000).¹ This jurisprudence has had a divisive impact on the nation and, internally, “few issues have divided the Rehnquist Court as deeply and visibly as federalism concerns” (Heinrich 2000, 1275). To indicate the significance of this decisionmaking for the legislative prerogative, the Court ruled that Congress transcended its constitutional power five times during the 2000–2001 term, four times during the 1999–...

  7. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 165-174)

    One of the challenges of the disability rights movement was to transform the status of people with disabilities, a group characterized by Congress in 1990 as “politically powerless.” The ADA was intended to send a clear message to society that discrimination on the basis of disability was unacceptable. In setting forth the purpose of the act, Congress stated that its intent was to “provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities [and] to ensure that the Federal government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in this Act.” However, despite the strong civil rights...

    (pp. 229-235)