Americans with Disabilities Act Amended to Expand Coverage
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Law.com, Congress recently enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendment Act of 2008 to reverse the holding of several United States Supreme Court cases which narrowed the ADA’s intended scope of protection.
Under the ADA, “disability” is defined as:
1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
2. a record of such an impairment; or
3. being regarded as having such an impairment.
Under the first prong, the Supreme Court has narrowly interpreted the meaning of “substantially limits” to mean that the impairment must “prevent or severely restrict” the employee from performing a major life activity. With the amendment, Congress has abandoned the Supreme Court’s strict interpretation and has given the EEOC the power to give a broader interpretation to the phrase “substantially limits.”
The Supreme Court has also narrowly interpreted the term “major life activities” by stating that it only covered activities “that are of central importance to most people’s daily lives.” Until now, activities like running and climbing the stairs were not considered “major life activities.” Because of the amendment, a broad range of activities are now considered “major life activities,” including thinking, communicating and the operation of a major bodily function, such as respiratory and reproductive functions.
Under the third prong, in the past, employees had to show that their employer mistakenly perceived them to have an impairment that limited a major life activity. After the enactment, all the employee needs to show is that the employer believed that he or she had an impairment before being subjected to an adverse employment action. There is no need to show that this perceived disability affected the employee’s ability to perform an activity.
Through this enactment, which has explicitly expanded the ADA’s scope of coverage, more Americans will be able to bring forth disability discrimination claims against their employers.