The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 took effect on January 1, 2009. It substantially lowers the burden for plaintiffs to demonstrate that they are protected persons with disabilities under the ADA. One unanswered question under ADAAA involves the application of these loosened definitions to disability discrimination claims pending in court or before the EEOC prior to the beginning of this year.
For administrative charges of discrimination, the EEOC takes the position that the ADAAA does not operate retroactively, and it applies the tougher older standards to claims arising out of conduct that occurred before the beginning of this year. In court, a number of plaintiffs have argued that ADAAA’s legislative history demonstrates that Congress intended it to restore the original disability definitions contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore its terms should apply to all pending matters.
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit became the first federal appellate court to address this issue. In Lytes v. District of Columbia Water and Sewer Auth., the court concluded that given the lack of clear Congressional intent to apply the ADAAA retroactively the plaintiff could not overcome the negative presumption that retroactive application of the law does not apply.
The D.C. Circuit noted that the law specifically overruled several Supreme Court cases, thus indicating that it was a change in existing law. It also noted that the law passed several months before its effective date demonstrating that Congress was giving employers a period of time to adjust to upcoming changes in the law.
Even with this decision and the EEOC’s position, employers can expect plaintiffs in other federal appellate circuits to continue trying to apply ADAAA to pending disability discrimination cases.