What is the Americans with Disability Act of 1990?
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 extended the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to all persons with disabilities. It provides for the “reasonable accommodation” of individuals with disabilities and bans discrimination against these individuals by employers and business owners.
What constitutes a disability under the Americans with Disability Act?
Disabilities under the ADA must impair “major life activities” due to either physical or mental limitations. Therefore, impairments from asthma and cancer to the loss of a limb are considered disabilities under the Americans with Disability Act guidelines. Mental retardation and learning disabilities are considered mental impairments and are also considered disabilities. This does not include character flaws and personality traits such as an inability to work with others, poor time management or irresponsibility.
Drug addiction is also considered impairment but most provisions of the ADA will not apply to current users that the employer or business owner has a reasonable belief that there is an addiction and that it will be a problem in the present or near future.
An impairment implies that the limitation prevents the individual from functioning like a normal individual and is subject to reasonable limitations. The inability to stand for more than 30 minutes due to a leg injury is an impairment as most will be able to stand for much longer without trouble. A football kicker that cannot kick a football more than 50 yards is not impaired as most individuals cannot kick a football that far. That inability will however affect his job performance. Not all limitations experienced by employees are impairments.
Impairments can be temporary conditions and are also covered under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990.
Summary of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990
Title 1 – Employment
One of the key provisions of the Americans with Disability Act is the restrictions placed against discrimination in the workplace. Prior to this act, job applicants could be rejected on the sole basis of a disability and employees could be fired for developing a disability.
Under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990, employers must provide qualified employees and applicants with “reasonable accommodation” for employees with disabilities. They may not:
– Force disabled job applicants to take medical examinations prior to a job offer and may only require an examination if all applicants undergo the same confidential examination.
– Disqualify an applicant on the sole basis of disability
– Disqualify a employee for a promotion on the sole basis of disability
– Fail to provide an employee with adequate training that does not take his disability into account.
Almost all organizations that employ more than fifteen workers and engage in business across state lines are “covered entities” under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990. Interstate commerce falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government where the authority to enforce the ADA is derived.
A provision in Title 1 that allowed states to be sued for damages in disability discrimination cases was stuck down by the US Supreme Court in the case of Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett (see below)
Title 2 – Public Entities
The next provision of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 bans discrimination of all persons with disabilities by “public entities” including public transportation. The Americans with Disability act defines a public entity as:
– Any State or local government
– Any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or local government
– Certain commuter authorities as well as AMTRAK.
More broadly, a public entity is an enterprise that is operated with public funds, receives significant assistance by the federal government or has management appointed by elected officials. Libraries, subsidized commuter rail and businesses on public land are examples of public entities that must abide by the provisions of Title 2.
Public-private partnerships such as museums must abide by both Title 2 and Title 3 (see below)
Title 3 – Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
The next provision of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 bans discrimination by private entities against all persons with disabilities when they attempt to enjoy a public good or service that is normally available to the public. The provisions include ensuring that all establishments where compliance is “readily achievable” will rectify any issues with their facility. Any new construction must abide by the provisions set by the Americans with Disability Act guidelines.
Title 3 covers:
– Places of public accommodation
– Commercial facilities
– Examinations and courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes.
The scope of enterprises covered by this provision is very broad and covers all establishments that lease, rent, provide services or sell goods. Additionally if the establishment is public gathering place, educational institution, park or lodging enterprise with more than six rooms, they must also follow reasonable accommodation rules. The provisions do not cover all establishments owned by an individual, only the ones that provide public accommodations.
Goods and services, such as swimming pools and meeting rooms in residential facilities are not places of public accommodation if they are closed to external membership or the general public. Therefore, these facilities do not need to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act under this specific guideline.
Many religious and private organizations are exempt from these provisions due to financial burdens or the level of public accommodations they provide, if any. Private organizations that lease or operate a space that provides public accommodations would have to abide by Title 2 and 3 provisions.
Title 4 – Telecommunications
The Americans with Disabilities Act also requires telecommunications companies to provide disability accommodations for the hearing impaired including relay services that provide for text-based phone calls.
Title 5 – Misc
The most important provision in Title 5 protects individuals from retaliation and coercion for exercising the rights granted by the Americans with Disability Act.
Opposition to the Americans with Disability Act
Private business owners and religious groups alike opposed the ADA for provisions that required the accommodation of individuals with disabilities at the expense of the establishment. These opponents charged that their legal liabilities had jumped significantly and represented an undue burden on small businesses. Provisions such as “readily achievable” modifications and “reasonable accommodation” ameliorated most of these concerns. Most churches were able to retain their status as non-provider of public accommodations, thus allowing them to remain outside of the enforcement of this law.
Critics also charged that the potential liabilities that arise from the ADA could lead employers to discriminate subtly against disabled job applicants owing to an increased risk of lawsuits by disabled employees that perceive that their needs are not adequately provided. The employer would rather search for a reason to not hire the disabled worker and face a potential lawsuit for non-compliance under the provisions of this law.
Important court cases related to the Americans with Disabilities Act
(2001) Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett
Two employees of the University of Alabama sued the organization for failing to provide reasonable accommodation and reassigning workers with disabilities. By the time this case arrived in the Supreme Court, a provision in Title 1 that allowed states to be sued for violation of the ADA was challenged. The challenge was upheld as a violation of the eleventh amendment that guarantees the sovereign immunity of states from litigation.
(2004) Barden v. Sacramento
The City of Sacramento was sued successfully for failing to provide sidewalks that were easily accessible for the impaired. Sidewalks were ruled public accommodations and municipalities were required to move sidewalk obstacles, ensure that there were “curb cuts” and maintained a reasonable slope and even level.
(2005) Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Lines
A foreign company was found to be in violation of Title III of the ADA for selling tickets that were marked as handicap friendly but failing to provide reasonable accommodation. The cruise ships were based in American waters, despite their foreign registry and were required to abide by American law in American waters.
(2006) National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation
This case related to the accessibility to the Target Corporation’s website for the vision impaired persons attempting to access it. Target argued that only their physical locations were bound by the ADA and not their website. The court disagreed and Target was forced to comply and pay the costs of the plaintiff’s fees as well as a class action settlement. Certain electronic retailers must now comply by standards to make their website accessible.