The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) became effective Thursday. The new law substantially expands the definition of who is and who is not a protected disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act, reversing several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that had restricted the definition of a qualified person with a disability. The new law also expands the number of applicants or employees who can claim that they are wrongfully “regarded” as having a disability.
For employers, this law means that it will be significantly more difficult to obtain dismissal of ADA claims on summary judgment, as opposed to a jury trial. Given the unpredictability of juries in general, and sympathies often generated by allegedly disabled plaintiffs, the financial risks from ADA claims, including settlement value of cases, will be significantly increased under ADAAA.
Human resource professionals and corporate risk managers should plan for ADAAA by increasing their emphasis on managerial training. Unlike many other civil rights laws, ADA violations are often inadvertent and based on a supervisor’s ignorance of the law and legal requirements. Managers should be trained not to attempt to deal with questions involving employees’ medical conditions on their own, and to seek assistance from HR and legal advisors when dealing with issues that could possibly have ADA implications.