80 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2003
Several recent studies have shown that employment discrimination plaintiffs filing lawsuits in federal court under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) win only approximately five percent of their cases. This Article argues that this phenomenon is attributable at least in part to the ADA's very flawed definition of the term "disability." It suggests that the current definition be abandoned and that a new approach be adopted, one that would reshape the ADA's protected class so that it more closely resembles a discrete and insular minority, such as those traditionally protected by the civil rights laws. While Title I of the ADA embraces the goals of participatory and distributive justice for all individuals with disabilities, these objectives should be subordinated to the goal of providing corrective justice for those who commonly suffer discrimination. "Individuals with disabilities" should be redefined as those with mental or physical impairments that have been targeted for systematic discrimination by public policy or widespread private practice. The ADA should further authorize the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to develop an exclusive list of covered impairments and categories of conditions that are known to be associated with discrimination, such as mental illness, disfigurement, and paralysis. The proposed definition and the list of covered categories would provide much clearer guidance to plaintiffs, employers, and the courts and would significantly enhance the efficacy of Title I of the ADA.
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