The Americans with Disabilities Act is facing new challenges which could have serious impacts on people with disabilities. This time the question is if state employees are protected by the ADA. The 11th Amendment prohibits citizens from suing their states in federal court, while the 14th Amendment gives Congress power to enact laws that override this when states deny their citizens equal protection under the law.
The Supreme Court has agreed to decide this issue in 2001. Its decisions could affect not only state employees but also the right of any citizen with a disability to sue for equal services. Earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled that state employees cannot sue states on the basis of age discrimination because a pattern of discrimination had not been shown and that states are protected by the 11th Amendment.
Originally, the Court was to hear state employment discrimination suits from Arkansas and Florida, but these cases were settled out of court.
In mid-April the Court agreed to consider two cases from the state of Alabama in the
11th Circuit Court. In the first, Patricia Garret sued the state for employment discrimination after being treated for breast cancer. The second case involves Milton Ash, who alleges that the Alabama Department of Youth Services failed to accommodate his respiratory disability.
The two cases were combined by a federal judge who originally dismissed them on 11th Amendment grounds. The Alabama court relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s earlier decision protecting states from age discrimination suits. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court reinstated them, stating that the states have lost the constitutional immunity when the ADA is involved. Federal appeals courts are split on the issue.
Clinton administration lawyers have urged the Court to uphold Congress’ power to strip states of their immunity against claims of disability discrimination.
In Illinois, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court held that states are shielded from lawsuits brought by individuals under the ADA on April 11 of this year. This involve a case brought by Georgeen Stevens against the Illinois Department of Transportation. Stevens had on-the-job injuries that prevented her from lifting more than 10 pounds with her right arm or staying in temperatures under 50 degrees. She was terminated after she filed a workers’ compensation claim and was found to have a 30 percent permanent disability. Minnesota is in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court District.
Another case before the Supreme Court could affect people with disabilities and the ADA. The Court will soon be hearing a case involving whether the Boy Scouts can exclude gay individuals from being Scout Masters. The Court will determine if the Boy Scouts are a private club or a public accommodation. The ruling has potential impact on people with disabilities because there is question about whether Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are covered under the ADA.
Ann Roscoe is with ADA Minnesota she can be reached at 888-845-4595 (toll free), 651-603-2015 or 651-603-2001 (TTY)