Explaining 'Not Disabled' Cases Ten Years After the ADAAA: A Story of Ignorance, Incompetence, and Possibly Animus
33 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 13, 2019
Ten years have passed since Congress enacted the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which criticized the courts’ narrow interpretation of the term “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Overturning the Supreme Court’s decisions that had decimated the protection of the ADA, Congress enacted the ADAAA to breathe new life into the statute, and explicitly stated that the ADA’s definition of disability is to be broadly construed and should not create a demanding standard for qualifying as disabled. My 2014 research project, which reviewed all of the ADAAA cases decided under the Amendments up until the end of 2013, was optimistic, perhaps naively so. I concluded in that article that most courts were following Congress’s mandate for broad coverage of the definition of disability under the ADA. Five years later (and ten years after the ADAAA was passed), I was shocked to review scores of cases that had erroneously held that the plaintiff was not disabled under the ADA. This paper will review those cases, attempting to determine what went wrong. What explains these cases holding that individuals are not disabled when a straightforward application of the ADAAA’s not-so-new interpretive principles should have led to the conclusion that the plaintiffs were disabled? The answer appears to be a combination of failures: a little bit of ignorance (courts who seemingly are unaware that the ADAAA was passed), a little bit of incompetence (parties that do not rely on the most helpful provisions interpreting the definition of disability), and possibly, a little bit of animus (courts that cite to the ADAAA but then improperly apply the amended statute to conclude that the plaintiff was not disabled).
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