Narrow Definitions: The Courts’ Resistance to the ADA Amendments Act

Author: Brynn Stylinski Associate Member University of Cincinnati Law Review

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination by private employers, among other entities.[1] Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against “a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to” the hiring, firing, and other aspects of employment.[2] In the years following the enactment of the ADA, courts narrowly interpreted the ADA’s definition of disability, making it extremely difficult for plaintiffs to bring a successful suit.[3] In 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) which explicitly repudiated the courts’ narrow interpretation of disability.[4] The ADAAA redefined key terms of the ADA and instructed courts to interpret the terms broadly in order to expand the protections of the ADA to more individuals.[5] Despite the ADAAA’s repudiation of the narrow interpretation of disability, many courts have continued to interpret the statute narrowly.[6] This continued, explicitly unintended interpretation has resulted in a lack of protection for the intended beneficiaries of the ADA. This improper interpretation is exemplified by the recent case of Ortega v. South Colorado Clinic, P.C. In this case, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado narrowly interpreted the definition of “disability” and excluded a condition that arguably satisfied the ADA’s broad standards.[7] The courts have limited the scope of the ADA despite clear congressional intent, and continuing this trend will lead to the severe abrogation of protective legislation.

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Religious Discrimination? No Actual Knowledge, No Problem

Author: Brynn Stylinski, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Title VII has prohibited religious discrimination and required accommodation of religious needs in the workplace since 1964. Last year, in EEOC v. Abercrombie and Fitch Stores, Inc., the Tenth Circuit ruled that an employer that denied a Muslim woman employment on the basis of her religious appearance was not liable for religious discrimination under Title VII.[1] However, this ruling is incongruous with Title VII’s purpose as a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tenth Circuit actually misapplied the law at issue. The Tenth Circuit’s ruling encourages employers to act with willful blindness and allows employers to discriminate on the basis of religion. The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the case, and in order to preserve the integrity of Title VII, should overturn the Tenth Circuit’s ruling and clarify the standard of review to be applied in religious discrimination cases.

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