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New ADA Amendments Reverse Four Supreme Court Cases

    Client Alerts
  • October 03, 2008

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was prompted in part by a series of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions that restricted the definition of a “Qualified Individual with a Disability” (QUID) under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Supreme Court repeatedly took the view that the original ADA’s definition of a QUID limited the Act’s protections to a very limited range of persons.  When plaintiffs with clearly serious medical conditions began losing claims because they could not meet the definition of a QUID, Congress stepped in to change the underlying law’s definitions.

The new definition of a QUID under the ADA is substantially broader than the original one.  First, Congress changed the definition to make clear that mitigating measures are not to be considered when determining whether a plaintiff meets the definition of a QUID.  For example, under Sutton v. United Air Lines, Murphy v. UPS and Albertson’s, Inc. v. Kirkinburg, an employee with diabetes who complained of disability discrimination would not be considered a protected QUID if he kept the condition under control through use of insulin.  Under the new definition, with limited exceptions (such as corrective lenses), courts will make the disability determination by reviewing the medical condition in the absence of medication or surgical corrections.

The new Act also reverses the Supreme Court’s Toyota Motor Mfg. Co. of Ky. v. Williams decision by defining the term “substantial limitation of a major life activity,” to a much broader standard.  The plaintiff will still have to establish substantial limitation of a major life activity, but such activities will include impairments of major bodily functions, such as the immune, reproductive, digestive and other body systems.  In addition, substantial limitation can involve the employee’s current job.  The EEOC will issue new regulations defining who is and who is not a QUID under the ADA.

The new amendments take effect on January 1, 2009.