The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990

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THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990 – AS AMENDED:
REMEDYING THE BOUNDARY THAT CONGRESS OVERSTEPPED
Samantha Katie Bernstein*
“A few years’ experience will convince us that those things which at
the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have
proved our greatest blessings.”
- George Mason
INTRODUCTION
Debora Culotta feared traveling over water.1 Nevertheless, after
twenty-seven years of service, her employer, Sodexo,2 attempted to
transfer her to a new position offshore.3 Ms. Culotta believed this
transfer was a ploy to force her to retire and, as a result, she quit.4
Angry with Sodexo for discriminating against her “disability,” Ms.
Culotta filed a lawsuit asserting a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging her supervisors forced her to quit
because they were aware of her fear.5
In response, Sodexo argued Ms. Culotta’s fear of traveling over
water was not a “disability” and consequently did not fall under the
* George Mason University School of Law, J.D. Candidate, May 2015; University of Michigan, B.A. Psychology and Communication Studies, 2010. I would like to thank my notes editor,
Lea Lambert, for her time and invaluable feedback and my family and friends for their unwavering love and support. I would also like to individually thank my parents, Michael and Audrey
Bernstein, for always believing in me and pushing me to my full potential each and every day.
1 Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 469 (E.D. La. 2012).
2 Sodexo Remote Sites Partnership is a company that offers sustainable development and
quality of life services to those who live and work offshore. In large font on the main page,
Sodexo’s Remote Site’s website reads the title: “WORKING AT FAR-OFF LOCATIONS.”
Working at Far-Off Locations, SODEXO, http://sodexousa.com/usen/quality-life-services/on-siteservices/remote-sites/offshore-operations.aspx (last visited Aug. 8, 2014).
3 Culotta, 864 F. Supp. 2d at 469.
4 Id.
5 Id. Note that Ms. Culotta’s supervisor had recently taken the position and may not have
known that Ms. Culotta had any such preexisting fear. Id. The opinion does not make any
mention as to whether any of Ms. Culotta’s coworkers regarded her as having such a fear. See
id.
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ADA’s provisions.6 Ms. Culotta countered that her fear substantially
impaired her ability to work.7 However, Ms. Culotta declined to
accept other offers in similar positions and with the same employer,
all of which did not require her to travel over water.8 The court noted
that Ms. Culotta’s phobia did not significantly hinder her ability to
perform any major life function.9 Ultimately, the court barred her
claim under the first prong of the “disability” definition because the
phobia did not prevent her from performing the majority of jobs.10
Luckily for Ms. Culotta, however, Congress had recently
amended the 1990 ADA.11 Congress originally enacted the ADA with
the goal of eliminating discrimination against individuals with disabilities.12 The Act defined a disability as: (1) a physical or mental impairment that significantly limited at least one major life activity, (2)
having a record of such impairment, or (3) being “regarded as” having
an impairment.13 In 2008, Congress broadened the scope of this definition by focusing on the “regarded as” prong, and removing an entire
section delineating the disabled as a “discrete and insular minority.”14
Before the newly broadened ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA)
“regarded as” prong, Ms. Culotta’s fear of traveling over water would
not have been considered a disability at all.15 However, after denying
the condition was a disability under the first prong, the district court
continued its ADAAA analysis and ultimately agreed with Ms.
6
Id. at 473-74.
Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 475 (E.D. La. 2012).
8 Id. at 475-76 n.17.
9 Id. at 475-76. The first prong of the ADAAA being “a physical or mental impairment
that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 12102(1)(A) (Supp. II 2008).
10 Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 476 (E.D. La. 2012) (citing
Anderson v. N.D. State Hosp., 232 F.3d 634 (8th Cir. 2000)).
11 See ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553 (2008) (codified as
amended at 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12114 (2008)).
12 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(7), (b)(2) (Supp. II 1990); see also Amelia Michele Joiner, The
ADAAA: Opening the Floodgates, 47 SAN DIEGO L. REV. 331, 360 (2010) (citing Alex B. Long,
Introducing the New and Improved Americans with Disabilities Act: Assessing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, 103 NW. U. L. REV. 217, 217 (2008)).
13 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A)-(C) (Supp. II 1990).
14 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101(a), 12102(3) (Supp. II 2008); 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101(a)(7); 12102 (Supp.
II 1990) (emphasis added); see also Lloyd v. Hous. Auth. of Montgomery, Ala., 857 F. Supp. 2d
1252, 1263-64 (M.D. Ala. 2012) (noting that the expanded definition of disability “means that
treatable yet chronic conditions like hypertension and asthma render an affected person just as
disabled as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic—if only for the purposes of disability law.”).
15 See Culotta, 864 F. Supp. 2d at 476.
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Culotta.16 The court held Ms. Culotta sufficiently stated a claim
regardless of whether her “impairment” limited or was perceived to
limit one of her major life activities.17
As evidenced by Ms. Culotta’s case above, Congress drastically
broadened the “disability” definition, such that most conditions now
constituting disabilities fall outside the spirit of the law and purpose of
the original ADA.18 Today, courts deciding cases under the ADAAA
are more inclined to find a reason to deem something—or rather anything—a disability.19 In response, courts have turned simple phobias
into disabilities, even if a person does not actually have a disability
and even though it does not impair any major life functioning.20
The ADAAA places the focus on the employer.21 It allows disgruntled employees to easily evade the guidelines that were once in
place as the first step to proving a discrimination case: that a disability
was actually present.22 When Congress implemented the ADAAA, it
removed the constraint of deciphering whether something was a disability by permitting courts to gloss over the “major” and “substantially
limiting” terms in the language of the definition.23 Nonetheless, courts
deciding cases under the ADAAA analysis seem hesitant to use such
16
Id.
Id.
18 See Paul R. Klein, Note, The ADA Amendments Act of 2008: The Pendulum Swings
Back, 60 CASE W. RES. L. REV. 467, 470-71 (2010).
19 See Berard v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., No. 8:10-cv-2221-T-26MAP, 2011 WL 4632062,
at *2 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 4, 2012); Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 47576 (E.D. La. 2012); Kravits v. Shinseki, No. 10-861, 2012 WL 604169, at *6 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 24,
2012); Gibbs v. ADS Alliance Data Sys., Inc., No. 10-2421-JWL, 2011 WL 3205779, at *3 (D.
Kan. July 28, 2011); Bliss v. Morrow Enters. Inc., No. 09-cv-3064C PJS/JJK, 2011 WL 2555365, at
*5-6 (D. Minn. June 28, 2011).
20 See Berard, 2011 WL 4632062, at *2 (holding that a diabetic attack was a disability);
Culotta, 864 F. Supp. 2d at 475-76 (holding that a fear of traveling over water was a disability);
Kravits, 2012 WL 604169, at *6 (holding that back pain and fibromyalgia were disabilities);
Gibbs, 2011 WL 3205779, at *3 (holding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to
whether carpal tunnel was a disability); Bliss, 2011 WL 2555365, at *5-6 (holding that a broken
arm was a disability).
21 Karen R. Harned & Katelynn K. McBride, The Amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act: Bad for Business, Boon for the Disabled?, 11 ENGAGE: J. FEDERALIST SOC’Y PRAC.
GROUPS 99, 99 (2010).
22 For example, a person must be “a qualified individual with a disability” to receive protection from the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (Supp. II 1990) (emphasis added).
23 See, e.g., Gibbs v. ADS Alliance Data Sys., Inc., No. 10-2421-JWL, 2011 WL 3205779, at
*3 (D. Kan. July 28, 2011) (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(2), (j)(1)(i) (2012)).
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broad terminology in case holdings without first explaining that the
ADAAA encourages broad coverage.24
For instance, in deciding that carpal tunnel was a disability, the
United States District Court for the District of Kansas stated—within
a matter of two paragraphs—that the ADAAA: “lowered the bar,”
“‘significant[ly] expanded’ the terms,” favors “broad coverage,” does
“not intend[ ] to [create] ‘demanding’ standards,” is “less demanding,”
and “is not meant to be ‘extensive.’”25 The Court repeated similar
statements numerous times within its disability analysis, showing some
reluctance in its decision to deny the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.26 However, such a holding was necessary under the
new ADAAA analysis standards.27
Ultimately, the ADA itself has caused employers to fear hiring
those who have even the slightest “disability,” instead increasing the
rate of unemployment for those with real disabilities.28 Now, nearly
anyone can bring a disability claim and have a higher likelihood of
success and, thus, those with actual disabilities who are in extreme
need of coverage are given even less protection.29 Because of the
increase in plaintiffs’ success in litigation, let alone the increase in disability litigation generally, employers are left erring on the side of caution—not interviewing or hiring anyone with even a possible
disability.30 By using this method, employers are able to gain some
control in facing such claims.31
The ADAAA has effectively made those with disabilities a
majority.32 Today, disabled individuals whom the original ADA
24
Gibbs, 2011 WL 3205779, at *3.
Id. at *7-8.
26 Id.
27 See id.
28 Kate S. Arduini, Note, Why the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act is Destined to Fail: Lack of Protection for the “Truly” Disabled, Impracticability of Employer Compliance, and the Negative Impact it Will Have on our Already Struggling Economy, 2 DREXEL L.
REV. 161, 168 (2009) (citing PETER BLANCK ET AL., IS IT TIME TO DECLARE THE ADA A
FAILED LAW?, IN THE DECLINE IN EMPLOYMENT OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: A POLICY PUZZLE 301, 301 (David C. Stapleton & Richard V. Burkhauser eds., 2003)).
29 Robin E. Shea, New ADAAA Regs: The Untold Story!!!, EMP’T & LABOR INSIDER (Apr.
4, 2011), http://www.employmentandlaborinsider.com/discrimination/bah-humbug-what-nobodyelse-will-tell-you-about-the-adaaa-regulations/.
30 Arduini, supra note 28, at 191.
31 See id.
32 Cf. 42 U.S.C. §12101(a)(7) (Supp. II 1990) (stating that “individuals with disabilities are
a discrete and insular minority.”) (emphasis added).
25
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intended to cover are falling among the large masses, either overlooked or simply not given a chance because of employers’ ever-growing fears.33 These people deserve greater protection than the
ADAAA has given them.
This Comment argues that the recent amendments to the ADA
force it well beyond its legislative purpose, and posits that further congressional amendments are necessary to reasonably narrow its scope.
By completely removing, or at least, further limiting the “regarded as”
prong, the ADA will more closely resemble its original purpose by
covering those who truly deserve protection. Part I tracks the ADA’s
legislative history, the changes made through the amendment, and
illustrates how courts’ application of the ADA has changed over time.
Part II discusses the ADAAA’s overbreadth, the resulting problems
from its broad coverage, and proposes that further amendment is necessary to conform the ADA to its original purpose.
I. BACKGROUND
When Congress first passed the ADA, it was deemed, the “most
sweeping anti-discrimination measure since the Civil Rights Act of
1964.”34 The ADA’s stated purpose was “to provide clear, strong,
consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against
individuals with disabilities” and to eliminate such discrimination.35 In
the original ADA, Congress noted that people with disabilities make
up “a discrete and insular minority.”36 Specifically, Congress found
that forty-three million Americans had physical or mental disabilities
and noted that this number was continuing to increase.37 The need to
protect the disabled was clear because less than twenty-five percent of
disabled men and only thirteen percent of disabled women had fulltime jobs.38
33 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 168 (citing PETER BLANCK ET AL., IS IT TIME TO DECLARE
ADA A FAILED LAW?, IN THE DECLINE IN EMPLOYMENT OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: A
POLICY PUZZLE 301, 301 (David C. Stapleton & Richard V. Burkhauser eds., 2003)).
R
THE
34 Op-Ed., A Law for Every American, N.Y. TIMES, July 27, 1990, at A26, available at http:/
/www.nytimes.com/1990/07/27/opinion/a-law-for-every-american.html?scp=1&sq=a%20law
%C20for%C20every%20american&st=cse [hereinafter A Law for Every American].
35 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1)-(2) (1990) (emphasis added).
36 Id. § 12101(a)(7).
37 Id. § 12101(a)(1).
38 A Law for Every American, supra note 34, at A26.
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Section A of this Part provides a brief summary of the original
1990 ADA. Section B discusses two Supreme Court cases that similarly tried to narrow the “disability” definition. Section C explains the
changes that were made to the ADA in 2009. Section D concludes by
discussing the courts increased vulnerability to accept anything as a
disability and how this has changed the outcome of cases over time.
A. The “Disability” Definition of 1990
The original ADA’s foundation, and most of the litigation pertaining to the ADA, rested on the definition of “disability.”39 The
ADA’s “disability” definition matched those used in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.40
Because of its previous success, the drafters did not change the definition.41 Little discussion or debate occurred in adopting the definition,
but the decision was otherwise motivated by the political belief that
forming a new definition would slow down the process in which the
ADA would be signed into law.42 In the ADA, disability is defined as:
(1) a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or
more major life activities, (2) having a record of such impairment, or
(3) being “regarded as” having an impairment.43
1. The Three Prongs of the “Disability” Definition
Under the 1990 ADA, a person needed to be “a qualified individual with a disability” to receive protection.44 To have a “disability”
under the first prong an individual had to have a physical or mental
impairment.45 Such impairments ranged from physiological disorders
or cosmetic disfigurements to cardiovascular or reproductive
39 See generally Arduini, supra note 28, at 178-79 (explaining that courts place significant
emphasis on the “disability” definition).
40 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 27 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 450; see
Brian K. Esser, Comment, Beyond 43 Million: The “Regarded As” Prong of the ADA and HIV
Infection—A Tautological Approach, 49 AM. U. L. REV. 471, 478 (1999) (arguing that the
ADA’s definition of disability was unoriginal).
41 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 27 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 450.
42 See Chai R. Feldblum, Definition of Disability Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Law:
What Happened? Why? And What Can We Do About It?, 21 BERKELEY J. EMP. & LAB. L. 91,
129 (2000).
43 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A)-(C) (Supp. II 1990).
44 See id. at §12112(a) (1990) (emphasis added).
45 H.R. REP. NO.101-485, pt. 3, at 28 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 450.
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problems, but did not include physical characteristics, like eye and
hair color.46 Next, the impairment had to substantially limit at least
one major life activity.47 Courts had difficulty interpreting the term
“substantially limits” in terms of how significantly the impairment had
to be limited and whether it had to prevent a person from performing
one specific job or all jobs in general.48 However, the ADA’s legislative history provided examples of major life activities, such as hearing,
walking, breathing, and working.49 Over time, courts decided that
having a limited ability to perform one job did not equate with having
a substantial limitation in working as a major life activity.50
Congress intended the second prong, or the “record of” prong, to
cover individuals with a record of their impairment.51 Few plaintiffs
relied on documentation, and courts rarely used this prong in their
analysis.52 However, the third “regarded as” prong was the most controversial.53 Even if a person did not have an actual impairment or
disability, they were covered under the “regarded as” prong so long as
someone else thought that they had any of the covered disabilities.54
This prong focused on how another person perceived an individual
who they thought had a disability, as well as the stigmas associated
with such perception.55 For example, the legislative history focused
specifically on burn victims, stating that employers may fear the “negative reactions” to a person with severe burns and discriminate
accordingly.56 Therefore, the prong sought to protect people without
an actual disability, but who were disabled by myths, fears, or stereotypes associated with their perceived impairment.57
46
Id. at 450-51.
See id. at 451; see also Arduini, supra note 28, at 169 (noting that the term “substantial
limitation” caused “considerable debate”).
48 See Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 200 (2002), superseded by
statute, ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110–325, 122 Stat. 3553 (2008).
49 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 27 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 451.
50 Id.
51 Having a record included having documentation, a history, or a physical record of such
an impairment. Id. at 452.
52 See Alex B. Long, Introducing the New and Improved Americans with Disabilities Act:
Assessing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, 103 NW. U. L. REV. COLLOQUY 217, 227 (2008).
53 See Stephen F. Befort, Let’s Try This Again: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008
Attempts to Reinvigorate the “Regarded As” Prong of the Statutory Definition of Disability, 2010
UTAH L. REV. 993, 1000-01 (2010).
54 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 29 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 452.
55 Id.
56 Id. at 452-53.
57 Id. at 453.
47
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The “regarded as” prong had one major hurdle: a plaintiff had to
prove that his employer believed he had a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major activity.58 Thus, the “regarded
as” prong frequently referred back to the more difficult requirements
of the first prong.59 Conversely, the employee did not have to disprove the employer’s perceptions.60 Moreover, because employers
could not legally ask a current or potential employee if they had a
disability, this prong was difficult for courts to interpret and even
harder for plaintiffs to prove.61
2. The Legislative Purpose of the 1990 ADA
As then-President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA, which he
considered a symbol of freedom “open[ing] ‘a once-closed door to a
bright new era,’” over two thousand disabled advocates “cheered
mightily” on the South Lawn of the White House.62 Congress
intended for the ADA to close the unemployment gap for the disabled: the “poorest . . . and largest minority in America.”63 Ultimately, the goal was to allow the disabled to become a part of the
“mainstream of American life.”64
President Bush promised to enforce the ADA’s intended goals
“efficiently and vigorously.”65 However, the initial version of the
ADA proved unable to help those truly in need of its protection.66
Courts found the ADA’s language unclear and plaintiffs had great difficulty in proving the existence of a disability, causing many lawsuits
to end with the plaintiff losing on summary judgment.67
58 See Ani B. Satz, Disability Discrimination After the ADA Amendments Act of 2008: Forward, 2010 UTAH L. REV. 983, 983-84 (2010); see also Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S.
471, 489-90 (1999), superseded by statute, ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110–325,
122 Stat. 3553 (2008).
59 See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(C) (Supp. II 1990).
60 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 31 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 453. For
instance, the employee would not have to prove that others would accept him or that his insurance would not increase per the beliefs of his employer. Id.
61 See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(c)(4)(A) (Supp. II 1990).
62 A Law for Every American, supra note 34, at A26.
63 S. REP. NO. 101-116, at 9 (1989).
64 See Presidential Statement on Signing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 26
WEEKLY COMP. PRES. DOC. 1165 (July 30, 1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 601, 602.
65 Id.
66 Arduini, supra note 28, at 166.
67 See Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 100.
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B. The Supreme Court’s Attempt to Narrow the ADA’s Definition
of “Disability” Through the “Regarded As” Prong
As courts continued to apply the ADA, they made significant
changes to the way they defined and interpreted “disability.”68 Courts
rarely looked at whether discrimination actually occurred, instead
focusing on whether a condition was a “disability” and the role of the
word “impairment” in the three prongs of the definition.69 Over time,
courts began to narrow the scope of the “disability” definition, making
it harder to prove.70
One of the Supreme Court cases that narrowed the disability definition used an individualized analysis for each case because of how
much people differ.71 The Supreme Court held it was necessary to
employ a strict interpretation and demanding test to qualify individuals as disabled in view of the words “substantially limits” and “major
life activities.”72 Thus, the Supreme Court interpreted “substantially
limits” as a permanent or long-term impairment that “severely
restrict[ed]” a person from engaging in their major life activities.73
Another Supreme Court case—agreeing that an individualized inquiry
was necessary—narrowed the ADA by disregarding people who could
mitigate their impairments, such as through the use of corrective
lenses.74
In these cases, the Supreme Court rejected the broad interpretation of the “regarded as” prong from the holding in School Board of
Nassau County v. Arline.75 The Supreme Court held that unless an
employer perceived the impairment as substantially limiting one or
68 Letter from Jeff Rosen, Chair, Nat’l Council on Disability, to President Barack Obama,
at 2 (July 23, 2013) (on file with Nat’l Council on Disability).
69 Id.
70 See Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184,198 (2002) (holding that “substantially limits” meant an impairment that severely restricted a person from important daily life
activities); Albertson’s, Inc. v. Kirkingburg, 527 U.S. 555, 565-66 (1999) (holding mitigating factors could remove an impairment from the protection of the ADA); Murphy v. United Parcel
Serv., Inc., 527 U.S. 516, 521 (1999) (finding that mitigating factors were important to the disability analysis); Sutton v. United Air Lines Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 482-83 (1999) (finding that myopia
was not a disability because it could be corrected by mitigating factors).
71 Toyota Motor Mfg., 534 U.S. at 198-99.
72 Id. at 196-97; Kevin M. Barry, Exactly what Congress Intended?, 17 EMP. RTS. & EMP.
POL’Y J. 5, 15 (2013).
73 Toyota Motor Mfg., 534 U.S. at 198.
74 Sutton, 527 U.S. at 482-84, 487-89.
75 Sch. Bd. of Nassau Cnty. v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 282-83 (1987); see also Barry, supra
note 72, at 21.
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more major life activities, the plaintiff could not qualify as disabled
under the “regarded as” prong.76 Thus, when working was the activity
potentially affected by the perceived impairment, the employer had to
believe it prohibited the plaintiff from performing many jobs as
opposed to one distinctive job in order to qualify as disabled.77 The
focus of this analysis was on the employer’s beliefs, in terms of how
they perceived the impairment, or lack thereof, to affect major life
activities.78 The Supreme Court further narrowed the “regarded as”
prong by requiring the plaintiff to disprove the employer’s belief.79
C. Congress Responds by Enacting the ADAAA and its Broadened
Definition
Congress amended the ADA to reject the Supreme Court holdings and to remedy the increasing unemployment rates of the disabled.80 Unlike other civil rights statutes, the ADA left employers
fearing lawsuits and viewing the disabled as “lawsuits on wheels.”81
The ADAAA—which is deemed the “most extensive change to
employment law in the last decade”82—explicitly seeks “[t]o restore
the intent and protections” of the 1990 ADA.83 But in its attempt to
address the ADA’s underinclusive nature after the Supreme Court
76
Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 489 (1999).
Id. at 491; see Barry, supra note 72, at 14.
78 Dale Larson, Unconsciously “Regarded As” Disabled: Implicit Bias and the Regarded-As
Prong of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 56 UCLA L. REV. 451, 462-63 (2008) (citing Nat’l
Council on Disability, Policy Brief Series: Righting the ADA No. 15, The Supreme Court’s Decisions Discussing the “regarded as” Prong of the ADA Definition of Disability 8-11 (2003)).
79 Barry, supra note 72, at 14 n.60 (quoting Nat’l Council on Disability, Righting the ADA
53 (2004), available at http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2004/Dec12004).
80 See Robert C. Bird & John C. Knopf, Do Disability Laws Impair Firm Performance, 47
AM. BUS. L.J. 145, 152 (2010); see also ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-325, sec.
2(b)(2)-(5), 122 Stat. 3553, 3555; Julie Hofius, How the ADA Handicaps Me, CATO INST. (July
26, 2000), available at http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=4639 (showing that the
ADA decreased the disabled unemployment rate by only four percent).
81 Hofius, supra note 80; see also Arduini, supra note 28, at 168 (citing THOMAS DE LEIRE,
THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT AND THE EMPLOYMENT OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, IN THE DECLINE IN THE EMPLOYMENT OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: A POLICY PUZZLE
259, 273 (David C. Stapleton & Richard V. Burkhauser eds., 2003)).
82 Arduini, supra note 28, at 161 (citing Denise Bleau, The ADA Amendments Act of 2008,
59 LAB. L.J. 277, 277 (2009)).
83 Jeffrey Douglas Jones, Enfeebling the ADA: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008, 62
OKLA. L. REV. 667, 668 (2010).
77
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holdings, Congress paid a serious price by simply “tinkering” with the
“disability” definition in a counterintuitive, overinclusive manner.84
The ADAAA became effective on January 1, 2009.85 It significantly broadened the “disability” definition and clarified that the
determination as to whether a condition constituted a disability
“should not demand [an] extensive analysis.”86 Further, Congress
designed the ADAAA to clear up confusion and leave less for the
courts to interpret.87
In its attempt to broaden the ADA’s scope, Congress removed
the language referencing the disabled as a minority group.88 By
removing this reference from the text of the ADAAA, Congress
expanded the scope and range of those able to receive disability protection, from a defined “minority group” to an undefined, open-ended
question. However, given that Congress included this fact in the original ADA may show that the legislature intended to narrow the extension of disability protection, thus, including fewer people.89 Overall,
the ADAAA made it easier to prove a substantial limitation, qualified
more actions as major life activities, and ignored mitigating
measures.90
The ADAAA broadened all parts of the “disability” definition.91
Although the actual language of the disability prongs did not change,
Congress changed the step-by-step analysis and redefined certain
words within each.92 The ADAAA “soften[ed]” the “substantially
limits” language in the first prong by making the threshold lower than
the Supreme Court’s “severely restricted” standard.93 Additionally, it
84
Id.
Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99 (citing Rohr v. Salt River Project Agric.
Improvement & Power Dist., 555 F.3d 850, 853 (9th Cir. 2009)).
86 See ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-325, sec. (a)(1)(5) 122 Stat. 3553 (2008).
The National Council on Disability, the federal agency pushing for the amendment, “emphasize[d] that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.” Letter from Jeff Rosen, supra
note 68, at 2 (emphasis added).
87 See Barry, supra note 72, at 20.
88 Compare 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(1), (7) (Supp. II 1990), with 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(1),
(7) (Supp. II 2008).
89 See Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 494-95 (1999) (Ginsburg, J.,
concurring).
90 Satz, supra note 58, at 985 (citing ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-325,
§ 2(b)(4)-(6), 122 Stat. 3553 (2008); 42 U.S.C. § 12102 (4)(E)(i) (Supp. II 2008)).
91 See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12102 (2006 & Supp. II 2008).
92 See id. § 12102.
93 Id. §§ 12101(a)(8), (b)(4), 12102(1)(A); Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99, 101.
85
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was no longer necessary for an activity to be “central to everyday life”
in order for it to fall within the category of a major life activity.94 The
ADAAA added extensive lists, including non-exhaustive examples of
major life activities and major bodily functions.95 “[R]ather than
requiring wholesale impairment of all activities” like the 1990 ADA, a
disability was covered so long as it impaired at least one life activity.96
The most significant change was to the “regarded as” prong.97
Under the ADAAA, a plaintiff no longer had to show that a disability
limited or was perceived to limit a major life activity.98 Additionally,
the plaintiff did not have to show that his employer had a reasonable
basis for the perception.99 Under the original ADA, this prong was
not an “automatic claim” when the plaintiff failed to show the substantial limitations of the perceived impairment.100 Now, the
“regarded as” prong “protects nearly anyone who is adversely treated
based on any impairment—whether it is actual or perceived, and functionally limiting or not.”101
Although the ADAAA broadened the scope of the “regarded as”
prong significantly, Congress attempted to limit its scope in two ways:
(1) an impairment could not be “transitory and minor” and (2) no
reasonable accommodation would be afforded to a person “disabled”
under this prong only.102 Transitory was defined as lasting six months
or less.103 However, Congress left “minor” undefined.104 These signif94
42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (Supp. II 2008); Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99.
“[M]ajor life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 12102(2)(A) (Supp. II 2008). Major life activities are now extended to incorporate major bodily functions, which “includ[e] but [are] not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal
cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine,
and reproductive functions.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(B) (Supp. II 2008).
96 Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A) (Supp. II
2008)).
97 Befort, supra note 53, at 994.
98 Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99.
99 Davis v. NYC Dept. of Educ., 2012 WL 139255, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2012) (quoting
Darcy v. City of New York, No. 06-CV-2246, 2011 WL 841375, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 8, 2011)).
100 See Robinson v. Global Marine Drilling Co., 101 F.3d 35, 37 (5th Cir. 1996).
101 Barry, supra note 72, at 22 (emphasis added).
102 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008); Befort, supra note 53, at 994-95.
103 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008); but see Davis, 2012 WL 139255, at *5-6 (denying defendants motion to dismiss when the condition lasted only three months).
104 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008); Barry, supra note 72, at 23.
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icant changes to the “regarded as” prong will nevertheless continue to
allow many more plaintiffs to initiate lawsuits under the ADAAA.105
D. The “Regarded As” Prong Before and After the ADAAA:
A Case Comparison
The change in the “regarded as” prong has led to additional cases
and many more are making it past the summary judgment and motion
to dismiss phases.106 Most courts analyzing disability under the original ADA found the plaintiff was not “regarded as” disabled or generally, that they could not proceed in their case.107 In contrast, most of
the ADAAA cases found that the plaintiff was “regarded as” disabled
or at least allowed them to continue beyond the preliminary phases.108
105
Arduini, supra note 28, at 183-84.
Compare Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 556 (7th Cir. 2011);
Milholland v. Sumner Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 569 F.3d 562, 567-69 (6th Cir. 2009); Ruiz Rivera v.
Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 83 (1st Cir. 2008); Talley v. Family Dollar Stores of Ohio, Inc.,
542 F.3d 1099, 1106 (6th Cir. 2008); Van v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 509 F. Supp. 2d 1295, 1300 (S.D.
Fla. 2007); Ivey v. District of Columbia, 949 A.2d 607, 613 (D.C. 2008) for cases finding the
employer did not regard the plaintiff as disabled under the original ADA analysis, with
Bordonaro v. Johnston Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 938 F. Supp. 2d 573, 579 (E.D.N.C. 2013); Davis v.
NYC Dept. of Educ., No. 10-cv-3812, 2012 WL 139255, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2012); Lapier v.
Prince George’s Cnty, Maryland, No. 10-CV-2851AW, 2012 WL 1552780, at *8 (D. Md. 2012);
Saley v. Caney Fork, LLC, 886 F. Supp. 2d 837, 849-51 (M.D. Tenn. 2012); Darcy v. New York,
No. 06-CV-2246, 2011 WL 841375, at *3-4 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 8, 2011); Dube v. Texas Health &
Human Servs. Comm’n, No. SA-11-CV-354-XR, 2011 WL 3902762, at *5 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 6,
2011); Estate of Murray v. UHS of Fairmount, Inc., No. 10-2561, 2011 WL 5449364, at *9 (E.D.
Pa. Nov. 10, 2011), for cases finding that the employer regarded the plaintiff as disabled under
ADAAA analysis.
107 See Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 100; see also Serednyj, 656 F.3d at 556 (granting summary judgment because the employer did not perceive plaintiff as unable to perform her
work); Milholland, 569 F.3d at 567-68 (holding the employer did not believe the impairment
substantially limited activities in a broad class of jobs); Richardson v. Honda Mfg. of Alabama,
LLC, 635 F. Supp. 2d 1261, 1277 (N.D. Ala. 2009) (finding there was enough information for a
factual dispute under the “regarded as” prong because the employer made an express statement
that plaintiff was “ADA-qualified”); Ruiz Rivera, 521 F.3d at 82-87 (discussing that the employer
could have regarded plaintiff as disabled after an express statement that her condition was not
considered an ADA disability that substantially limited her life activities); Talley, 542 F.3d at
1106 (finding the employer did not believe osteoarthritis substantially impaired plaintiff’s ability
to work); Ivey, 949 A.2d at 613 (holding the employer did not consider plaintiff’s obesity to
substantially impair her ability to work); Van, 509 F. Supp. 2d at 1300-02 (finding the employer
did not regard plaintiff as unable to perform a broad range of positions).
108 Bordonaro, 938 F. Supp. 2d at 579 (denying the employer’s motion to dismiss because
plaintiff sufficiently proved the employer excused her from specific job related tasks and suggested she apply for short term disability benefits); Davis, 2012 WL 139255, at *6 (holding that
the employer regarded plaintiff as disabled even though the impairment only lasted three
months and was transitory); Lapier, 2012 WL 1552780, at *8 (denying summary judgment
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1. 1990 to 2009: The ADA
The Supreme Court heard sixteen ADA cases between 1998 and
2004 and the lower courts were similarly overloaded.109 One court, in
particular, stated that the ADA “had the potential of being the greatest generator of litigation ever, and . . . doubted whether Congress, in
its wildest dreams or wildest nightmares, intended to turn every garden variety worker’s compensation claim into a federal case.”110
Plaintiffs asserting ADA claims faced challenges in proving that their
impairment was a disability.111 In all ADA cases between 1992 and
1997, employees succeeded in only 7.89 percent.112 This low success
rate was primarily because of the “regarded as” analysis. Once a
court found that an employer did not believe an impairment substantially interfered with a major life activity, the court’s inquiry
stopped.113 For instance, one court ruled although the plaintiff did
have a disorder, the evidence was insufficient to show its “severity,
because plaintiff’s evidence was sufficient to show that a blood disorder was more than minor
and not transitory); Saley, 886 F. Supp. 2d at 849-53 (denying summary judgment even though
the employer did not regard plaintiff’s iron “overload” as a substantially limiting disability,
because such a belief was unnecessary to ADAAA analysis); Darcy, 2011 WL 841375, at *3-4
(denying summary judgment because the employer may have regarded plaintiff as suffering from
alcoholism and it was no longer necessary to prove substantial limitation); Dube, 2011 WL
3902762, at *4-5 (denying rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss because there was not enough information alleged in the complaint to find that an impairment was transitory and minor); Estate of
Murray, 2011 WL 5449364, at *9 (finding plaintiff raised a genuine issue of material fact as to
whether the employer regarded plaintiff as disabled, especially because the employer was no
longer required to believe the impairment substantially limited a major life activity).
109 See Befort, supra note 53, at 999-1000 (citing Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 533-34
(2004). See also Clackamas Gastroenterology Assoc., P.C. v. Wells, 538 U.S. 440, 441-42 (2003);
Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44, 55 (2003); Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181, 189-90
(2002); Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Echazabal, 536 U.S. 73, 76 (2002); U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett,
535 U.S. 391, 406 (2002); EEOC v. Waffle House, Inc., 534 U.S. 279, 297 (2002); Toyota Motor
Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 198 (2002); Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett,
531 U.S. 356, 374 (2001); PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661, 690 (2001); Albertson’s, Inc. v.
Kirkingburg, 527 U.S. 555, 577-78 (1999); Murphy v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 527 U.S. 516, 521
(1999); Sutton v. United Air Lines, 527 U.S. 471, 492-94 (1999); Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624,
647 (1998); Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt. Sys. Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 805-07 (1999); Pa. Dep’t of Corr.
v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 213 (1998)).
110 Befort, supra note 53, at 1000 (quoting Pedigo v. P.A.M. Transp., 891 F. Supp. 482, 485
(W.D. Ark. 1994), rev’d, 60 F.3d 1300 (8th Cir. 1995)).
111 Jones, supra note 83, at 667-68
112 Id. at 691 (citing Study Finds Employers Win Most ADA Title I Judicial and Administrative Complaints, 22 MENTAL & PHYSICAL DISABILITY L. REP. (ABA) 403, 403-04 (1998)).
113 Robinson v. Global Marine Drilling Co., 101 F.3d 35, 37 (1996) (holding the employer
did not regard a lung condition as substantially interfering with plaintiffs ability to breathe, so
plaintiff was not “regarded as” having a disability).
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duration, or permanency” on any major life activity.114 Overall, the
Supreme Court’s narrow definition increased the plaintiff success rate
by thirty-two percent.115 However, employers were still winning over
ninety percent of cases in 2008.116
2. 2009 to the Present: The ADAAA
Because courts cannot apply the ADAAA retroactively, few
courts have used its analysis.117 Thus, there are few statistics on plaintiff success rates.118 Recently, however, using what little statistics are
available, the National Council on Disability conducted a preliminary
analysis and found that plaintiffs prevailed in more than three of four
114 Shalbert v. Marcincin, No. A.04-5116, 2005 WL 1941317, *4-6 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 9, 2005)
(finding there was insufficient evidence that the employer regarded the employee’s anorexia as
substantially impairing her ability to eat); but see Franchi v. New Hampshire Sch., 656 F. Supp.
2d 252, 257-60 (D.N.H. 2009) (finding an eating disorder was a disability under the ADAAA).
For an overview of the inconsistent holdings between the ADA and the ADAAA compare
Rivera v. Apple Indus. Corp., 148 F. Supp. 2d 202, 213-14 (E.D.N.Y. 2001) (holding that diabetic
attacks and poor eye sight, even together, were not disabilities under the ADA), with Berard v.
Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., No. 8:10-cv-2221-T-26MAP, 2011 WL 4632062, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 4,
2012) (finding that experiencing a diabetic attack while at work was a disability); compare Dave
v. Lanier, 681 F. Supp. 2d 68, 76 (D.D.C. 2010) (holding asthma was not a disability because the
employer did not regard it as a disability), and Murphy, 527 U.S. at 521-24 (ruling high blood
pressure did not substantially limit any major life activity, was not “regarded as” substantially
limiting, and consequently was not a disability under the ADA), with Lloyd v. Hous. Auth. of
Montgomery, Ala., 857 F. Supp. 2d 1252, 1263-64 (M.D. Ala. 2012) (finding, even without evidence as to whether the condition substantially impaired plaintiff’s major life activities, that
asthma and high blood pressure could both be disabilities); compare Aquinas v. Fed. Express
Corp., 940 F. Supp. 73, 78 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (holding discomfort from fibromyalgia was not a
disability, especially because it did not limit plaintiffs ability to perform her job), with Kravits v.
Shinseki, No. 10-861, 2012 WL 604169, at *6 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 24, 2012) (holding back pain and
fibromyalgia were disabilities under the ADAAA); compare Mont-Ros v. City of W. Miami, 111
F. Supp. 2d 1338, 1356-57 (S.D. Fla. 2000) (holding sleep apnea was not a disability because it did
not substantially limit plaintiff’s ability to perform a major life activity and could be corrected
through various measures), with Johnson v. Farmers Ins. Exch. No. CIV-11-963-C, 2012 WL
95387, at *1 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 12, 2012) (holding sleep apnea could be a disability).
115 Jones, supra note 83, at 692 (citing Michael H. Fox & Robert A. Mead, The Relationship
of Disability to Employment Protection Under Title I of the ADA in the United States Circuit
Courts of Appeal, 13 KAN. J.L. & PUB. POL’Y 485, 506 (2004)); see also ROBERT L. BURGDORF
JR., NAT’L COUNCIL ON DISABILITY, A PROMISING START: PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS OF COURT
DECISIONS UNDER THE ADA AMENDMENTS ACT 88 (2013) (stating some studies showed ninetyseven percent of plaintiffs had their ADA cases thrown out).
116 Jones, supra note 83, at 692 (citing Sharona Hoffman, Settling the Matter: Does Title I of
the ADA Work?, 59 ALA. L. REV. 305, 306 (2008)).
117 Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 100.
118 See BURGDORF, supra note 115, at 87-88.
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cases, generally, and six of seven circuit court cases.119 Overall, courts
using the ADAAA analysis tend to permit plaintiffs claims to go
beyond the summary judgment stage more than they did under the
ADA.120 For instance, in Davis v. NYC Department of Education, the
district court considered a back and shoulder injury a disability
because the employer regarded the plaintiff as disabled, and even
though it was unclear whether the injury was minor, it was transitory.121 Similarly, in Dube v. Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the ADAAA allowed a plaintiff’s case to survive a motion to
dismiss because the complaint did not clarify whether her impairment
was transitory and minor.122 Ultimately, the ADAAA has left courts
confused and questioning what constitutes a disability.123
II.
ANALYSIS
What President George H.W. Bush called a ‘“sledgehammer’ to
shatter a ‘shameful wall of exclusion’ . . . turned out to be more of a
rubber mallet.”124 Unfortunately, the ADAAA is unlikely to improve
the ADA’s effectiveness.125 Today, the ADAAA protects nearly everyone, regardless of how mild their “disability,” how insignificant their
affected activity, and even those without an existing disability.126 As a
result, the ADAAA is unlikely to help the ADA meets its intended
119 Id. at 88-89 (also showing that six of ten cases found for the plaintiff under the
ADAAA and more than half were successful on the merits, moving beyond the preliminary
stages); see also Jana K. Terry, The ADA Amendments Act Three Years After Passage: The
EEOC’s Final Regulations and the First Court Decisions Emerge at Last, 58-DEC FED. LAW. 49,
51 (2011) (“Several court decisions indicate that it will be easier for ADAAA plaintiffs to withstand motions to dismiss for failure to sufficiently allege a substantial limitation on a major life
activity.”).
120 See Terry, supra note 119, at 51.
121 Davis v. NYC Dept. of Educ., No. 10-cv-3912 (KAM)(LB), 2012 WL 139255, at *6
(E.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2012).
122 Dube v. Texas Health & Human Servs. Comm’n, No. SA-11-CV-354-XR, 2011 WL
3902762, at *5 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 6, 2011).
123 See Bliss v. Morrow Enters. Inc., No. 09-cv-3064C PJS/JJK, 2011 WL 2555365, at *5-6
(D. Minn. June 28, 2011); Gesegnet v. J.B. Hunt Transp. Inc., No. 3:09-CV-828-H, 2011 WL
2119248 (W.D. Ky. May 26, 2011); see also Terry, supra note 119, at 53.
124 Barry, supra note 72, at 9-10.
125 Arduini, supra note 28, at 162.
126 See generally Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99-100.
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goal.127 Accordingly, Congress may have to remove or limit the
“regarded as” prong to correct the situation.128
Section A of this Part evaluates the broad scope of the ADAAA,
its inability to “restore” the original ADA, and the repercussions from
its failure. Section B discusses the over inclusive nature of the
ADAAA. Section C looks at how the ADAAA has moved beyond
the purpose of enacting disability discrimination legislation and even
that of the original ADA. Section D argues that Congress must
amend the ADA by removing the “record of” and “regarded as”
prongs. It also discusses an alternative for Congress if complete
removal of the “regarded as” prong is not possible, such as changing
or limiting it further. Lastly, Section E discusses the future implications if the ADAAA is not amended.
A. The ADAAA Has Gone Too Far: The Repercussions of the
ADA Over Time
Upon signing the ADA, President George H.W. Bush voiced
“[f]ears that the ADA [wa]s too vague or too costly and w[ould] lead
to an explosion of litigation [we]re misplaced.”129 However, the 1990
ADA did not help the disabled nearly as much as President Bush or
Congress intended.130 In an attempt to remedy the lack of protection
afforded by the original ADA, the ADAAA takes one step too many
and will continue to result in increased litigation.131 Unfortunately,
127
See Jones, supra note 83, at 668.
See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008).
129 Presidential Statement on Signing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 26
WEEKLY COMP. PRES. DOC. 1165 (July 30, 1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 601, 602.
130 See, e.g., Littleton v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 231 F. App’x 874, 877-78 (11th Cir. 2007)
(per curiam) (finding that because a mentally impaired boy graduated from a special handicap
school, he could not qualify as substantially limited in the major life activities of learning or
thinking); see also Befort, supra note 53, at 999 (citing Stuart H. Bompey et al., The Attack on
Arbitration and Mediation of Employment Disputes, 13 LAB. LAW. 21, 22 (1997)) (discussing that
within four years of its enactment, employment cases in federal court alone increased by 128
percent); Stephen F. Befort & Holly Lindquist Thomas, The ADA in Turmoil: Judicial Dissonance, the Supreme Court’s Response, and the Future of Disability Discrimination Law, 78 OR. L.
REV. 27, 29-30 (1999) (explaining that over 108,000 disability discrimination charges were
brought between 1992 and 1998).
131 See Gibbs v. ADS Alliance Data Sys., Inc., No. 10-2421-JWL, 2011 WL 3205779, at *3
(D. Kan. July 28, 2011) (showing Congress “ ‘lowered the bar’ on the disability inquiry”);
Arduini, supra note 28, at 168, 192 (discussing how the broadened definition encompassed more
individuals who will be able to survive summary judgment and, subsequently, companies will
have increased litigation costs).
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the disabled individuals to whom the original ADA intended to protect will remain unprotected and unemployed.132 It is even arguable
that the ADAAA harmed the disabled far more than the original
ADA,133 because no disability is truly covered when every impairment, or lack thereof, is deemed a disability.134
The ADAAA did not redefine physical or mental impairment,
but significantly expanded the definition of major life activity and the
conditions that qualify under the “regarded as” prong, while also
diminishing the substantial limitation standard.135 Thus, it is now easier to qualify as disabled, even under the first prong, when many more
physical or mental impairments are considered to substantially limit
the ability to perform at least one major life activity.136 Pursuant to
the ADAAA, an extensive disability analysis is unnecessary because
“when disability determinations are close, courts [are urged] to ignore
doctrine and give plaintiffs a pass,” ultimately creating a default rule
and making it easier for plaintiffs to win cases regardless of whether
their impairment is an actual disability.137
The ADAAA generates more questions than answers.138 For
instance, under the ADAAA’s broad “disability” definition, courts
assume that every problem or impairment qualifies regardless of
whether it falls within the purpose of the original ADA.139 In
Gesegnet v. J.B. Hunt Transport Inc., the court assumed the plaintiff’s
bipolar and anxiety disorders were disabilities, but doubted whether
there was enough evidence to prove it actually impaired a basic life
function.140 Accordingly, the ADAAA’s broad scope has driven
132 Arduini, supra note 28, at 168, 180-81 (addressing the increased rate of unemployment
for individuals with disabilities); Shea, supra note 29 (explaining that nearly everyone has a valid
cause of action and more individuals are now successful in claiming that their “disability” should
be covered).
133 Arduini, supra note 28, at 162.
134 See Klein, supra note 18, at 470-71 (explaining that the ADAAA goes too far and
“fall[s] outside the spirit of the statute.”).
135 Jones, supra note 83, at 671 n.21.
136 Id. at 671.
137 Id. at 669-70.
138 Klein, supra note 18, at 470-71 (discussing how several portions of the ADAAA generate more questions than answers).
139 See Bliss v. Morrow Enters. Inc., No. 09-cv-3064C PJS/JJK, 2011 WL 2555365, at *5-6
(D. Minn. June 28, 2011); Gesegnet v. J.B. Hunt Transp. Inc., No. 3:09-CV-828-H, 2011 WL
2119248 (W.D. Ky. May 26, 2011).
140 Gesegnet, 2011 WL 2119248; see also Bliss, 2011 WL 2555365 at *5-6 (expressing serious
doubt as to the finding that a broken arm was a disability).
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judges to make quick and simple assumptions.141 One article even
advises to “[a]lways assume that everyone has an ADAAA ‘disability’
[because] [y]ou will be right 99.9 percent of the time, and the rest of
the time you’ll be erring on the right side.”142
A direct result of the broader “disability” definition is that
employers are now less inclined to hire a disabled person.143 Today,
employers are forced to follow case law to track the types of individuals and disabilities surviving summary judgment and posing a risk for
expensive litigation.144 However, companies prefer not to face any
ADA claims at all, increasing unemployment for the disabled.145
Broadening the “disability” definition allows more cases to survive summary judgment, increasing the frequency and costs of litigation for businesses.146 Previously, businesses had more techniques for
avoiding ADA litigation, such as training supervisors and human
resources personnel to refrain from making assumptions as to whether
an individual was substantially limited by a disability.147 However, the
ADAAA has erased these safeguards for employers to use, such that
employers become “susceptible to ADA claims,” even without any
wrongdoing.148
Consider a hypothetical scenario where Lynn works for a company called Beta.149 Lynn has HIV, but is not limited in any major life
activity nor does she have a history of health issues.150 Lynn is frequently late for work, does not perform her daily job duties, and has a
low performance rating.151 Beta wants to terminate Lynn because of
her failure to show up for work on time and complete assignments.152
141
See Bliss, 2011 WL 2555365 at *5-6; Gesegnet, 2011 WL 2119248.
Shea, supra note 29; see also Berard v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., No. 8:10-cv-2221-T26MAP, 2011 WL 4632062, at *2 n.22 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 4, 2012) (recognizing that under the
ADAAA, courts gloss over the question of whether an impairment is or should even be considered a disability).
143 Arduini, supra note 28, at 182; see also Hofius, supra note 80 (stating although “[t]he
physical obstacles have been removed, [ ] they have been replaced with a more daunting obstacle: the employer’s fear of lawsuits.”).
144 Arduini, supra note 28, at 191.
145 Id.
146 Id. at 192.
147 Id. at 194.
148 Id.
149 This hypothetical is based on a Law Review Article. See id.
150 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 194.
151 See id.
152 See id.
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Beta does not believe that Lynn’s HIV contributed to her downfall at
work.153 Under the ADA, so long as Lynn’s supervisor or other managerial staff does not regard her as substantially limited in one or more
major life activity, Beta can dismiss her without fearing a lawsuit.154
Conversely, under the ADAAA, Lynn has a higher chance of surviving summary judgment because she needs only some evidence that
Beta regarded her as disabled.155
While employers previously avoided potentially frivolous ADA
“regarded as” claims with some success, the ADAAA’s broader
“regarded as” prong will do more harm than good.156 As a result,
employers will—possibly even more strictly—continue to avoid hiring
the disabled because of the increased liability under the ADAAA.157
In at least some cases, this may mean that employers retain “underperforming individuals, thereby decreasing efficiency and adversely
impacting other, more capable, individuals.”158
B. The ADAAA is Too Broad: No Coverage for the Truly
Disabled
Courts recognize that cases decided under the ADA would likely
come out differently had they been decided under the ADAAA.159
The terms Congress defined in the ADAAA are so broad as to
include almost all illnesses, minor ailments, and even a temporary
sprained ankle.160 The ADAAA even includes episodic or in-remission impairments so long as they are disabilities in their active
phase.161
153
See id.
Id. at 194-95 (citing Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 489 (1999).
155 Id. at 195 (citing Stephanie Wilson & E. David Krulewicz, Disabling the ADAAA, N.J.
LAW., Feb. 2009, at 37).
156 Arduini, supra note 28, at 195-96. The costs of increasing unemployment outweigh the
benefits of allowing everyone disability protection and, thus, those people the original ADA
intended to cover should be afforded such benefits. Id.
157 Id. at 202.
158 Id. at 195-96.
159 Kemp v. Holder, 610 F.3d 231, 236 (5th Cir. 2010).
160 See generally Moore v. Jackson Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 979 F. Supp. 2d 1251, 1261 (N.D.
Ala. 2013) (finding that even a temporary broken ankle was a disability under the ADAAA);
Lloyd v. Hous. Auth. of Montgomery, Ala., 857 F. Supp. 2d 1252, 1263-64 (M.D. Ala. 2012)
(stating asthma and high blood pressure could be disabilities under the ADAAA).
161 Satz, supra note 58, at 985-86.
154
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Pre-ADAAA analysis of the first prong consisted of: (1) a physical or mental impairment (2) that substantially limited (3) one or
more major life activities.162 While the ADAAA does not define
physical or mental impairments,163 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines these terms in a broad sweeping
list.164 When considered with the wide-ranging “major life activities”
and “major bodily functions,” it is difficult to imagine an impairment
that would not qualify as a disability within the most stringent first
prong.165 The ADAAA extends the “disability” definition so far that
courts no longer need to consider the severity or even the existence of
a limitation on a major life activity at all.166
One of the key reasons for the ADA amendment was to define
“substantially limits,” however, the ADAAA failed to do so.167 Thus,
courts using the broad ADAAA are forced to construe the same word
more broadly without any additional guidance as to how it should be
interpreted.168 Additionally, Congress stated the ADAAA’s purpose
was to reject the Supreme Court’s narrow rulings.169 Although the
ceiling is somewhat clearer in ADAAA disability analysis, courts have
no guidance as to what is too forgiving and are left to err on the side
of caution, interpreting everything as a disability.170
Courts rarely mention the “record of” prong in ADA lawsuits.171
However, when they do, opinions simply cite to the “record of” prong
in one sentence, stating whether or not a record of an impairment
existed.172 Overall, having a record of an impairment is not a dispositive factor.173
162
42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A) (Supp. II 2008).
Id. § 12102.
164 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h) (2012).
165 See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (Supp. II 2008).
166 See Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99.
167 See Klein, supra note 18, at 471.
168 See id.
169 Harned & McBride, supra note 21, at 99.
170 See Bliss v. Morrow Enters. Inc., No. 09-cv-3064C PJS/JJK, 2011 WL 2555365, at *5-6
(D. Minn. June 28, 2011); Gesegnet v. J.B. Hunt Transp. Inc., No. 3:09-CV-828-H, 2011 WL
2119248 (W.D. Ky. May 26, 2011).
171 See Long, supra note 52, at 227.
172 See, e.g., Johnson v. Farmers Ins. Exch., No. CIV-11-963-C, 2012 WL 95387, at *1 (W.D.
Okla. Jan. 12, 2012); Ivey v. District of Columbia, 949 A.2d 607, 612 (D.C. 2008).
173 JOSH FRIEDMAN, CAUSE OF ACTION TO RECOVER DAMAGES UNDER AMERICANS WITH
DISABILITIES ACT (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101 ET SEQ.) FOR EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION FOR
HAVING A “RECORD OF” A DISABILITY OR BEING “REGARDED AS DISABLED”, 16 CAUSES OF
ACTION 2D 153 (2001).
163
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In terms of the “regarded as” prong, the constraint to fulfill part
of the first prong was removed.174 The ADAAA “regarded as” prong
allows abuse of the system because the ADA drafters most likely did
not anticipate protecting many conditions that now qualify as disabilities.175 Taking a step even further, the focus of this prong moved away
from what the employer perceived to simply how the plaintiff was
treated.176 Pre-ADAAA, activists and observers viewed the
“regarded as” prong as a “major weapon in this arsenal, providing a
safety valve of coverage for many individuals who did not otherwise
qualify as having a current, functionally limited disability.”177 However, the ADA does not provide “safety.”178
While Congress added a “limitation” on the “regarded as” prong,
its actual purpose is transparent and will not fasten any real protection
from allowing every disability to qualify.179 For instance, Congress
placed an “and” between the words “transitory” and “minor,” so two
separate conditions needed to be met for a disability to be disqualified.180 Even with these “limitations,” plaintiffs have found ways to
qualify as disabled even without meeting both conditions.181 Further,
while these limitations are supposedly an attempt to counteract the
overly broad “regarded as” prong, Congress failed to provide any guidance as to the definition of “minor.”182
174
See supra Part I.C.
Arduini, supra note 28, at 184.
176 Befort, supra note 53, at 1018 (quoting Chai R. Feldblum, Kevin Barry & Emily A.
Benfer, The ADA Amendments Act of 2008, 13 TEX. J. C.L. & C.R. 187, 236 (2008)).
177 Befort, supra note 53, at 999 (citing Chai R. Feldblum, Definition of Disability Under
Federal Anti-Discrimination Law: What Happened? Why? And What Can We Do About It?, 21
BERKELEY J. EMP. & LAB. L. 91, 157 (2000)).
178 See Shea, supra note 29.
179 See, e.g., Davis v. NYC Dept. of Educ., 2012 WL 139255, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2012)
(holding the impairment was a disability because it was transitory, even though it was unclear if
it was minor); Dube v. Texas Health & Human Servs. Comm’n, No. SA-11-CV-354-XR, 2011
WL 3902762, at *5 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 6, 2011) (finding it was unclear from the complaint whether
the impairment was transitory and minor); see also Hodges v. District of Columbia, 959 F. Supp.
2d 148, 154 (D.D.C. Aug. 12, 2013) (having a temporary impairment did not stop plaintiff from
bringing forth an ADA claim).
180 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008).
181 See supra Part I.C.2; see also Hodges, 2013 WL 4047197, at *4-5 (showing a plaintiff
could bring an ADA claim even though the impairment was temporary); Davis, 2012 WL
139255, at *6 (holding an impairment was transitory and, thus, qualified as a disability); Dube,
2011 WL 3902762, at *5 (finding the complaint did not clarify whether the impairment was transitory and minor).
182 Barry, supra note 72, at 23 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008)).
175
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President Bush promised a law that would not produce much
expense or litigation.183 Nevertheless, Congress, within a matter of
years, failed to keep this promise, creating even more questions for
the courts to discuss, debate, and decide.184 Unfortunately this means
that the disabled are no longer truly protected because nearly anyone
can “qualify.”185 Overall, the ADAAA has not made the process any
more efficient for the courts or fair for the disabled.
C. The ADAAA Has Moved Away from its Original Purpose and
as a Result, Opened the Floodgates
Congress’s intention to keep the “judicial door” open for the
“truly disabled” is easy to understand.186 However, it is unclear
whether the ADAAA has effectively carried out this intent by providing broad coverage in every area of the “disability” definition.187 It is
also unclear whether those who are truly disabled and deserving of
ADA protection are actually receiving the security they need.188
The ADAAA’s “disability” definition is “largely divorced” from
the analysis of whether a condition is severe enough to be “deserv[ing
of] the [disability] designation.”189 Ambiguity persists within the
ADA itself and its corresponding case law.190 However, like the
ADA’s drafters who simply adopted an old definition, Congress—on
its second attempt—failed to address the “disability” definition leaving its language fully intact.191 Overall, Congress failed to restructure
and restore the ADA to its original purpose.192
It is clear from the language and history of the ADA that Congress did not intend such a sweeping scope.193 In Sutton v. United Air
183 See Presidential Statement on Signing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 26
WEEKLY COMP. PRES. DOC. 1165 (July 30, 1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 601, 601.
184 See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12102 (2006 & Supp. II 2008); Barry, supra note 72, at 23.
185 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 184.
186 Joiner, supra note 12, at 361 (emphasis added).
187 See id.
188 See generally id. at 361-63.
189 Jones, supra note 83, at 669.
190 Allison Ara, The ADA Amendments Act of 2008: Do the Amendments Cure the Interpretation Problem of Perceived Disabilities?, Comment, 50 SANTA CLARA L. REV. 255, 256
(2010) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(B) (Supp. II 2008)).
191 Ara, supra note 190, at 256.
192 Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(A) (Supp. II 2008)); see also Jones, supra note 83, at
669.
193 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(1), (7) (Supp. II 1990).
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Lines, the Supreme Court stated that one hundred million people
used corrective eye measures and noted that this number was definitely not accounted for within the forty-three million already considered disabled.194 If Congress intended to include such an expansive
range of individuals, the number originally cited in the ADA would
have been much greater.195
Similarly, Congress intended the ADA to cover only those persons truly in need, or it would not have referred to them as a “discrete
and insular minority” of forty-three million people.196 Yet, Congress
decided to delete this language from the ADAAA.197 This raises the
question as to whether the congressional intent, in making the amendment, was actually to restore the ADA to its original purpose, or
whether the ADAAA was solely a “desperate” effort to counteract
narrow judicial holdings and increasing unemployment rates.198
Congress moved even further away from the ADA’s original purpose through its broad interpretation of the “regarded as” prong.199
The “regarded as” prong includes language referring to “such an
impairment,” aiding the belief that the ADA drafters intended this
prong to incorporate some of the first prong’s elements.200 However,
the ADAAA notes that the “regarded as” prong is met even if the
impairment does not limit or is not perceived to limit a major life
activity.201 Not only does this move the ADAAA further from the
194 Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 487 (1999); see 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(E)
(i) (Supp. II 2008) (where the ADAAA removed the ameliorative measures language, allowing
courts to consider impairments that could be mitigated under the ADAAA analysis); see also
Chamberlain v. Valley Health Sys., Inc., 781 F. Supp. 2d 305, 311-12 (W.D.W. Va. 2011) (finding
plaintiff’s vision issues could be “regarded as” a disability); Gil v. Vortex LLC, 697 F. Supp. 2d
234, 237-39 (D. Mass. 2010) (holding that plaintiff was disabled because of vision problems, even
without showing limitations from his vision).
195 Barry, supra note 72, at 12 (quoting Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 487
(1999)).
196 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(7) (Supp. II 1990); Arduini, supra note 28, at 181-82; see also
Barry, supra note 72, at 13 (stating, “Congress’ use of the phrase ‘discrete and insular minority’
was ‘a telling indication of its intent to restrict the ADA’s coverage to a confined, and historically disadvantaged, class.” (citing Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 494-95 (1999)
(Ginsburg, J., concurring))).
197 Compare 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(1), (7) (Supp. II 1990), with 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a) (Supp.
II 2008).
198 Arduini, supra note 28, at 181-82.
199 See ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-325, § 2(b)(1), 122 Stat. 3553 (2008);
Barry, supra note 72, at 22.
200 See Ara, supra note 190, at 274 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A), (C) (Supp. II 2008)).
201 Ara, supra note 190, at 273-74 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A) (Supp. II 2008)).
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ADA’s original purpose, but it may also push courts to define
“impairment” themselves, ultimately leading to additional litigation
and the assumption that any condition is a qualified impairment.202
The “drastic broadening” of the ADAAA continues to protect
disabilities that the original drafters never before considered to substantially limit even one major life activity, such as the fear of flying
over water or an internet addiction.203 As a result, the ADAAA is far
removed from the ADA’s original purpose and neither of these conditions would have qualified under the 1990 ADA.204 The repercussions
from the ADAAA are endless.205 Such examples include decreased
employer profits, increased liability, and endangered employer security.206 Most importantly, although broadening the “disability” definition has opened the courts’ doors to conditions outside those the
original drafters considered, employers have simultaneously closed
their doors to the disabled in fear of facing litigation.207 This consequence surely cannot be the end result for an act designed to protect
the disabled from discrimination.
Mental problems,208 irritable bowel syndrome,209 heart attacks,210
and misdiagnosed conditions211 are now all valid claims under the
ADAAA.212 However, it appears that Congress may have been aware
of the overly broad implications of the ADAAA when it added the
“transitory” and “minor” limitations to the “regarded as” prong.213
Unfortunately, these limitations do not effectively prevent plaintiffs
202
Ara, supra note 190, at 275.
See Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 476 (E.D. La. 2012);
Arduini, supra note 28, at 192 (citing Blake R. Bertagna, The Internet–Disability or Distraction?
An Analysis of Whether “Internet Addiction” Can Qualify as a Disability Under the Americans
with Disabilities Act, 25 HOFSTRA LAB. & EMP. L.J. 419, 435 (2008)).
204 Arduini, supra note 28, at 192-93 (citing Blake R. Bertagna, The Internet–Disability or
Distraction? An Analysis of Whether “Internet Addiction” Can Qualify as a Disability Under the
Americans with Disabilities Act, 25 HOFSTRA LAB. & EMP. L.J. 419, 480-81(2008)).
205 See supra Part II.A.
206 Arduini, supra note 28, at 193 (citing Blake R. Bertagna, The Internet–Disability or
Distraction? An Analysis of Whether “Internet Addiction” Can Qualify as a Disability Under the
Americans with Disabilities Act, 25 HOFSTRA LAB. & EMP. L.J. 419, 430-32 (2008)).
207 Arduini, supra note 28, at 182.
208 Newberry v. E. Tex. State Univ., 161 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 1998).
209 Workman v. Frito-Lay, Inc., 165 F.3d 460, 463, 467 (6th Cir. 1999).
210 Weber v. Strippit, Inc., 186 F.3d 907, 910 (8th Cir. 1999).
211 Kaplan v. City of N. Las Vegas, 323 F.3d 1226, 1231 (9th Cir. 2003).
212 Ara, supra note 190, at 277 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A) (Supp. II 2008)).
213 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008).
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from bringing forth so-called “disabilities” that Congress did not
intend to include within the ADA’s scope.214
The concern that the ADA should cover only truly disabled people persists with the enactment of the ADAAA.215 In 1986, the court
in Forisi v. Bowen discussed that the purpose and intent of the ADA
would be impaired if it was extended to protect minor or everyday
impairments.216 Thus, it should be evident that the original drafters
did not wish to extend protections to those who are not truly disabled.217 At this juncture, however, the ADAAA allows many individuals to bring claims that courts would not have considered
seriously under the 1990 ADA.218
D. The Final Amendment: The “Regarded As” Prong as a Remedy
to the Boundary that Congress Overstepped
The ADAAA failed to resolve several confusing sections under
the ADA’s original “disability” definition and left many questions
unanswered.219 In particular, Congress failed to recognize the reason
why the ADA was ineffective at increasing employment, such that
employers believed they were less likely to face lawsuits for not hiring
the disabled than if they fired them.220 Congress also neglected to
change the substance of the “disability” definition, instead defining
specific words within the definition and further increasing
confusion.221
Congress must revisit the “disability” definition for the ADA to
meet its original intended purpose.222 As a preliminary measure, the
214 See generally Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 475-76 (E.D.
La. 2012); Bliss v. Morrow Enters. Inc., No. 09-cv-3064C PJS/JJK, 2011 WL 2555365, at *7-9 (D.
Minn. June 28, 2011); Gordon Good, Comment, The Americans with Disabilities Act: Short-Term
Disabilities, Exceptions, and the Meaning of Minor, 37 U. DAYTON L. REV. 99, 122 (2011) (citing
Stephen F. Befort, Let’s Try This Again: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 Attempts to Reinvigorate the “Regarded As” Prong of the Statutory Definition of Disability, 2010 UTAH L. REV.
993, 1027 (2010)).
215 Joiner, supra note 12, at 364.
216 Forrisi v. Bowen, 794 F.2d 931, 934 (4th Cir. 1986).
217 See Joiner, supra note 12, at 363 (quoting Michael J. Puma, Respecting the Plain Language of the ADA: A Textualist Argument Rejecting the EEOC’s Analysis of Controlled Disabilities, 67 GEO. WASH. L. REV. 123, 145 (1998)).
218 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 192.
219 Jones, supra note 83, at 669.
220 Arduini, supra note 28, at 181-82; see also Ara, supra note 190, at 273.
221 See Ara, supra note 190, at 273-74.
222 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 178-79.
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“record of” prong should be moved outside of the “disability” definition because it does not help define what constitutes a disability. The
main focus must be on the “regarded as” prong because the ADAAA
qualified mitigated conditions as disabilities and also removed the
necessity to meet the elements of the first prong.223 One possible remedy is to remove the “regarded as” prong entirely so that the “disability” definition is more precise and less elastic. A second option would
be to constrict the scope of the “regarded as” prong so that floods of
possibly frivolous lawsuits do not frustrate the ADA’s goal.
1. Moving the “Record of” Prong
The “record of” prong is not dispositive in most case analyses.224
Simply, it provides an unnecessary issue for courts to analyze in an
already demanding ADA caseload.225 This prong tends to focus more
on proving that a condition existed in the past and, if it did,226 how
severe its limitations were227 or whether someone was mistaken for
having a disability.228 It is not a way to distinguish one condition from
another to ascertain whether a disability is present.229 Additionally,
there are other concerns with the “record of” prong, such as confidentiality of records, evidentiary concerns in proving the recorded condition substantially limited major life activities, and financial concerns in
having to provide enough documentation and testimony to prove that
significant limitations existed.230 Nevertheless, the focus for defining
“disability” should not be on whether one has the proper documentation to prove that a condition existed, but rather that the condition
existed at all and whether it constituted an eligible “disability.”
223 Id. at 183-84 (discussing that the perceived impairment no longer needed to meet the
“substantial limitation” language and the employer no longer needed to believe the employee
was prohibited from working in a large range of jobs to qualify under the “regarded as” prong).
224 See supra Part II.B.2; Alex B. Long, Whatever Happened to the ADA’s “Record Of”
Prong?, 81 WASH. L. REV. 669, 688 (2006).
225 Befort, supra note 53, at 1000 (quoting Pedigo v. P.A.M. Transp., 891 F. Supp. 482, 485
(W.D. Ark. 1994), rev’d, 60 F.3d 1300 (8th Cir. 2995)).
226 See Feldblum, supra note 42, at 118, 128.
227 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(4)(iii) (2012).
228 Long, supra note 224, at 682.
229 See Feldblum, supra note 42, at 118, 128.
230 BURGDORF, supra note 115, at 97.
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A “definition” is a “description of a thing by its properties.”231
Black’s Law Dictionary explains that “[a stipulative] definition . . .
clarifies a [word] with uncertain boundaries or [ ] includes or excludes
specified items from the ambit of th[at word].”232 Proof, on the other
hand, is defined as an “establishment or refutation of an alleged fact
by evidence.”233
The “record of” prong does not help clarify a term, nor does it
exclude certain conditions from coverage under the ADA.234 Having
a record simply provides a basis of proof from which to establish that
a condition was present.235 Once established, the condition can be
assessed for whether it is a disability by means of how substantially it
limits a major life activity.236 As a result, the “record of” prong is
assumed within the first prong.237 Therefore, because ADA analysis
already places significant emphasis on the “disability” definition, it is
unnecessary to add more confusion with the misplaced “record of”
prong.238
2. Removing the “Regarded As” Prong
Similarly, the “regarded as” prong is misplaced within the “disability” definition. It produces more uncertainty and litigation than the
original ADA.239 Congress attempted to fix the problems that the
ADA faced, but failed to solve them and instead created additional
problems through its alterations.240 Because courts are left with significant doubt as to what constitutes an impairment and a disability,
231 Definition, THELAWDICTIONARY.ORG, http://thelawdictionary.org/definition/ (last visited
Aug. 9, 2014) (defining the word “definition”).
232 BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 515 (10th ed. 2014).
233 Id. at 1409.
234 See generally Feldblum, supra note 42, at 118, 128.
235 Id. at 128.
236 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(k)(1)-(2) (2012).
237 See id.
238 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 178-79.
239 See Good, supra note 214, at 122 (Stephen F. Befort, Let’s Try This Again: The ADA
Amendments Act of 2008 Attempts to Reinvigorate the “Regarded As” Prong of the Statutory
Definition of Disability, 2010 UTAH L. REV. 993, 1027 (2010)).
240 Befort, supra note 53, at 1023, 1027 (asking questions, such as: “Do Individuals Who are
Regarded As Disabled Need a Reasonable Accommodation to be Qualified for the Job?” and
what is “transitory and minor?”).
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under the “regarded as” prong, they prefer to err on the side of caution and find that most anything is a disability.241
If Congress removed the “regarded as” prong entirely, courts
would be left with the ADAAA’s broad, yet refined definition of disability under the first prong.242 Although the ADA would be less inclusive by removing the “regarded as” prong, it would still further the
goal of protecting the truly disabled.243 Realistically, there is a reasonable argument to include people who are “regarded as” impaired
because they are disabled by the way others view them.244 However,
people “regarded as” impaired should not be included within the
ADA because they are not truly disabled.
Removing the “regarded as” prong would likely resolve many
problems that persist under the ADAAA.245 Employers would be less
reluctant to hire disabled individuals, which would decrease the unemployment rate.246 Additionally, litigation rates and costs would
decrease because fewer individuals would be able to bring claims.247
It is clear that the drafters borrowed the ADA’s definition from
the Rehabilitation Act and did not adjust it to meet the ADA’s more
ambitious goals.248 Consequently, Congress needed to amend the
ADA to reflect its original intentions,249 but once again failed to
change the language of the “disability” definition.250 Removing the
“regarded as” prong would put the ADA back in line with such intentions. This is not to say that the “regarded as” prong has no place in
ADA analysis, but that it is an improper way to define disability, especially because the prong makes it possible to qualify as disabled without having an actual disability.251
In passing the ADAAA, no significant changes were made to
afford those with true disabilities the protection they deserved under
241
See, e.g., Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 476 (E.D. La.
2012).
242 The broad “maximum exten[sion]” of the definition covers all three prongs. 42 U.S.C.
§ 12102(1)(A), (4)(A) (Supp. II 2008).
243 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 181, 184.
244 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 30 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 452-53.
245 See supra Part II.A; see also Arduini, supra note 28, at 184 (discussing that the
“regarded as” prong allows “abuse” because of its broad extension).
246 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 191.
247 See id.
248 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 27 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 450.
249 Joiner, supra note 12, at 367.
250 Ara, supra note 190, at 256.
251 Barry, supra note 72, at 22.
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the ADA because Congress failed to recognize why the ADA was
unsuccessful in the first place.252 If the “regarded as” prong is
removed from the ADAAA “disability” definition, cases like Ms.
Culotta’s253 will not make it to court, and those with conditions that
significantly impair their daily lives, who actually need the ADA’s
protection, will have their day in court.254 Most importantly, employers will no longer contribute to the increasing unemployment rate out
of fear that it is easier not to hire disabled people than to hire them
and risk litigation if the employer has to fire them later for non-discriminatory reasons.255
3. In the Alternative, the “Regarded As” Prong Must be
Substantially Limited
Given the bipartisan nature of Congress and how difficult it is to
pass amendments, especially those related to sensitive subjects like
the ADA,256 there is a viable change that can be made to the
“regarded as” prong. First, the “regarded as” prong must be assessed
on a case-by-case basis to promote the best analysis and ultimate
determination of whether the ADA should cover a particular disability.257 Second, the prong should not focus on the duration of an
impairment, as the ADAAA “transitory and minor” limitation
attempted to do.258 If a person is discriminated against because of a
supposed impairment, why should it matter how long the perceived
disability lasted? Why has Congress placed a minimum by which to
analyze similar conditions under the “regarded as” prong, but not the
first prong? Ultimately, duration should not matter.
252
See supra Part II.D; see also Ara, supra note 190, at 273; Arduini, supra note 28, at 181-
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253
Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 469 (E.D. La. 2012).
Satz, supra note 58, at 987 (mentioning that many plaintiffs cannot obtain adequate
counsel to represent their ADA claims, possibly because of the lack of resources remaining from
the broad overreach).
255 Arduini, supra note 28, at 182-83; see also Ara, supra note 190, at 273.
256 It took over two years to enact the ADA, H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 24-25, (1990),
reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 446-47, and almost five years to enact the ADAAA. See
Letter from Jeff Rosen, supra note 68, at 2 (stating the NCD released a report about “Righting
the ADA” in 2004 and the ADAAA was not effective until 2009).
257 See Joiner, supra note 12, at 336.
258 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B) (Supp. II 2008).
254
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After Sutton, this prong was problematic because of the difficulty
to prove an employer’s belief about a person.259 Employers could not
inquire about a disability or condition if they wanted to clear up a
rumor, making it even more difficult to prove.260 Thus, Congress
placed the focus on discrimination, instead of the employer’s belief.261
However, Congress missed the mark by completely disregarding discrimination in the “disability” definition.262 In a patronizing attempt
to reverse the Supreme Court’s narrow holding, Congress, itself, may
have even believed the “regarded as” prong was too broad, placing
limitations on it without applying such limits to the other prongs.263
If Congress will not remove this overbroad prong from the “disability” definition, it should amend the “regarded as” prong to: being
“regarded as” having a physical or mental impairment that has caused
the individual to receive substantial discrimination in the workplace.264
Although it is difficult to prove one’s mindset, it should not be hard to
prove the repercussions and actions that result from such a mindset.265
Additionally, including the “physical or mental impairment” language
from the first prong will force courts to analyze disabilities that are
more likely to fall under and qualify as a disability with the first
prong.266
Substantial discrimination should be defined within the ADA as
an adverse action, which causes a person to suffer because of exclusion, termination, or ridicule in the work place.267 With this amendment, courts would no longer be left questioning the prong’s
259
Barry, supra note 72, at 21-22.
See Hofius, supra note 80.
261 Ara, supra note 190, at 273 (citing Steny H. Hoyer, Hoyer: Aggressive Action Needed to
Restore the Intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Oct. 21, 2004), available at http://www.
democraticwhip.gov/content/hoyer-aggressive-action-needed-restore-intent-americans-disabilities-act).
262 See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A)-(C), (3)(B) (Supp. II 2008).
263 Id. § 12102(3)(B).
264 See Ara, supra note 190, at 273 (citing Steny H. Hoyer, Hoyer: Aggressive Action
Needed to Restore the Intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Oct. 21, 2004), available at
http://www.democraticwhip.gov/content/hoyer-aggressive-action-needed-restore-intent-americans-disabilities-act).
265 See Barry, supra note 72, at 22.
266 Ara, supra note 190, at 279 (citing Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 489
(1999)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A) (Supp. II 2008).
267 See Kevin Barry, Toward Universalism: What the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 Can
and Can’t Do for Disability Rights, 31 BERKELEY J. EMP. & LAB. L. 203, 219 (2010) (citing Chai
R. Feldblum, Definition of Disability Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Law: What Happened?
Why? And What Can We Do About It?, 21 BERKELEY J. EMP. & LAB. L. 91, 101-02 (2000)).
260
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language.268 In regard to Ms. Culotta,269 her claim would not have
made it into court because her employer asked her to work offshore in
a new position. While Ms. Culotta alleged that her employer forced
her to quit by asking her to work offshore, Ms. Culotta—having other
job options—chose to quit.270 Cases like Ms. Culotta’s illustrate why
the “regarded as” prong must be removed or substantially limited for
the ADA’s scope to cover only those with actual disabilities in need of
protection.
4. Potential Problems and Weaknesses
Some believe that the “regarded as” prong is an “elegant resolution to a paradigmatic civil rights problem.”271 However, there is
nothing elegant about protecting those who do not actually need protection, and in turn not giving enough to the truly disabled and whom
Congress designed the ADA to protect.272 The “regarded as” prong
advocates claim that it is suitable within the analysis because once
employers realize that they have made a mistaken perception, the
individual “regarded as” disabled will no longer need protection.273
However, this turns the court into a babysitter, forcing it to keep
watch for the very instance that employers were given notice and ending any potential damages at that time.
Others believe that the “regarded as” prong can only be used
when a plaintiff is unable to qualify under the other prongs.274 However, this misplaced reality of the prong is exactly the problem.
Instead of finding that a condition does not qualify as a disability,
plaintiffs asserting disability claims with conditions that Congress had
not originally intended for the ADA to cover will simply be analyzed
under the “regarded as” prong because of its lower standards.275
Advocates of the “regarded as” prong may argue that the amended
language is too narrow, neglecting to protect those who have stigma268
See Befort, supra note 53, at 1022-23.
Culotta v. Sodexo Remote Sites P’ship, 864 F. Supp. 2d 466, 469 (E.D. La. 2012).
270 Id.
271 Thomas N. Abbott, Comment, Kaplan and “Regarded As”: Does the ADA Discriminate
Between Real and Perceived Disability?, 39 LOY. L.A. L. REV. 883, 904 (2006).
272 See supra Part II.B.
273 Abbott, supra note 271, at 904.
274 Long, supra note 224, at 724-25.
275 Shea, supra note 29 (explaining that the EEOC is actually encouraging people to sue
under the “regarded as” prong because of how easy it is to qualify as disabled).
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tized conditions.276 However, people who are significantly impaired
because of stigmas, fears, and myths will still be covered so long as
their condition qualifies under the elements of the first prong.277
Regardless, the focus should be less on the stigma and what others
think, and more on the actual condition or disability and the adverse
treatment. Advocates of the ADAAA “regarded as” prong applaud
its “progress” because the amended version blurs the line between the
“us” and “them” in disability analysis.278 But despite the possibility
that the ADAAA does blur such a distinction, it does so at a large cost
to disability analysis instead protecting every single person who can
conceive of a possible condition.279 There is no protection for anyone
when anything and everyone is protected. However, this problem will
be resolved if the proposed “regarded as” prong is amended to protect
people harmed in the workplace by adverse actions or severe
discrimination.
E. Future Implications and Potential Problems
Without a change, employers will continue to face challenges in
settling copious amounts of ADA cases, rather than risk facing a large
judgment and other expenses from litigating potentially moot claims
because of the ADAAA’s broad scope.280 As a result, employers will
continue to refrain from hiring disabled individuals.281 Under the
ADAAA, it is unlikely that an employer will obtain summary judgment.282 As time progresses, new conditions will pose additional
problems for employers and the courts.283 These problems are among
276 See generally Barry, supra note 267, at 272-73; see also Jones, supra note 83, at 692
(citing Michael H. Fox & Robert A. Mead, The Relationship of Disability to Employment Protection Under Title I of the ADA in the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal, 13 KAN. J.L. & PUB.
POL’Y 485, 506 (2004)) (discussing that after the Supreme Court narrowed the “disability” definition, the success rate for plaintiffs actually increased at least thirty-two percent).
277 H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3. at 30 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 452.
278 Barry, supra note 267, at 208-09.
279 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 184.
280 Jones, supra note 83, at 669.
281 Arduini, supra note 28, at 191.
282 Jones, supra note 83, at 669 (citing Sharona Hoffman, Settling the Matter: Does Title I of
the ADA Work?, 59 ALA. L. REV. 305, 327-29 (2008)).
283 See, e.g., Complaint at 2-3, Whittaker v. Ams. Car-Mart Inc., No. 1:13-CV-00108-SNLJ
(E.D. Mo. July 19, 2013), ECF No. 1, available at http://www.manatt.com/uploadedFiles/Content/
4_News_and_Events/Newsletters/[email protected]/Whittakerv.AmericasCar-MartInc. .pdf (bringing forth an ADA disability discrimination action based on obesity).
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the many that will persist if the ADAAA is not amended once
more.284
For instance, obesity is one of the many conditions that may “lead
to abuse under the broadened ‘regarded as’ prong.”285 Just weeks
after the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that
obesity was a qualified disease, a Missouri employee filed a lawsuit
against his employer for violating the ADAAA because his weight
was pretext for his termination.286 The news of this obesity case has
incited fear in experts that this could be the “first of an avalanche of
cases alleging discrimination based on obesity.”287
If the proposed amendment is not enacted, this will likely become
a large problem under the ADAAA, not only because obesity is visible and consequently, discrimination is inevitable, but because of the
social biases that are associated with obesity.288 The rate of obesity is
also drastically increasing.289 Currently, the obesity rate encompasses
more than thirty percent of the population.290 Thus, without this proposed amendment there will be an unimaginable amount of employees with a new way to sue their employers.291 Without any
amendment “this confluence [may very well] devastate American
businesses.”292
In direct consequence, and as more conditions qualify as disabilities, employers will have a more substantial burden in providing reasonable accommodations.293 Under the proposed amendment,
conversely, courts would have the leeway to decide when accommodations are necessary, “allow[ing] for judicial discretion in deciding
284
See Jones, supra note 83, at 669-70 (explaining the many problems with the ADAAA).
Arduini, supra note 28, at 195.
286 Complaint at 2-3, Whittaker, No. 1:13-cv-00108-SNLJ; Tim Gould, First ADA Suit Since
AMA’s Obesity Policy: Is this the Start of Something Big?, HR MORNING (Aug. 23, 2013), http://
www.hrmorning.com/first-ada-suit-since-amas-obesity-policy-is-this-the-start-of-something-big/.
287 Gould, supra note 286.
288 See Arduini, supra note 28, at 195 (citing Kari Horner, Comment, A Growing Problem:
Why the Federal Government Needs to Shoulder the Burden in Protecting Workers from Weight
Discrimination, 54 CATH. U. L. REV. 589, 592 (2005)).
289 Arduini, supra note 28, at 195 (citing American Sports Data, Inc., Fitness and Fatness
Boom? The New American Paradox: Exercise and the Ballooning of the Nation, http://www.
americansportsdata.com/pr-obesityresearch-bmi.asp (last visited Aug. 14, 2014)).
290 Gould, supra note 286; see also Arduini, supra note 28, at 195 (showing the obesity rate
is near thirty-four percent).
291 Gould, supra note 286.
292 Arduini, supra note 28, at 195.
293 Jones, supra note 83, at 669.
285
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whether reasonable accommodation is warranted.”294 This would
allow for the proposed amendments case-by-case analysis.295 Otherwise, and without the proposed amendment, employers will continue
to view the disabled as “lawsuits on wheels.”296
CONCLUSION
“Some day a truly level playing field will exist for people with
disabilities. But this will not occur by passing laws that cast [individuals] as [ ] victim[s] in need of protection.”297 However, that day is not
today. The ADAAA continues to cast the disabled in this light, especially under the “regarded as” prong, by protecting those who fall victim to the stigmas, myths, and fears associated with such conditions.298
Both Congress and the courts must be willing to face this issue
head on and consider the aforementioned proposed amendment, or
else history from the past twenty-one years, “similar in scope (but
opposite in effect),” may very quickly repeat itself.299 By removing
the nondispositive “record of” prong, and either removing or rewriting the “regarded as” prong, courts may begin to accommodate the
truly disabled instead of protecting everyone. With these proposed
changes, the ADA will be more on track, providing “a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination
against individuals with disabilities.”300
294
Ara, supra note 190, at 280.
See supra Part II.D.3; see also Joiner, supra note 12, at 336.
296 Hofius, supra note 80.
297 Id.
298 See H.R. REP. NO. 101-485, pt. 3, at 30 (1990), 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 445, 452.
299 See Klein, supra note 18, at 489-90.
300 ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-325, § 2(a)(1), 122 Stat. 3553 (2008)
(emphasis added).
295
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