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. 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. 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. In 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) which explicitly repudiated the courts’ narrow interpretation of disability. 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. Despite the ADAAA’s repudiation of the narrow interpretation of disability, many courts have continued to interpret the statute narrowly. 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. 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.