The U.S. Senate is now considering a bill which will amend the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last Wednesday, is designed to make the ADA applicable to more employees. Over the past decade, federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have narrowed the definition of disability to exclude persons whose disabilities are mitigated by treatments including prescription drugs, hearing aids and artificial limbs. The new bill, entitled the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, explicitly rejects this narrow definition. Under the proposed law, a person will be qualified as “disabled” under the ADA without regard to whether the disability is treatable, treated, or in remission.
The New York Times has reported that the Senate bill has bipartisan support, as well as tentative support from the President. A vote on the legislation should take place in the near future, according to Senate Democrat Tom Harkin.
As an employment litigator familiar with prosecuting cases of disability discrimination, I believe the ADA Amendments Act is necessary. I have advised many clients to avoid federal court if they have a disability discrimination claim. Instead, I bring my disability discrimination cases only in New Jersey state court, under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Unfortunately, however, in my experience, the restrictive definition of “disability” that has been read into the ADA by the federal bench has creeped into our State courts as well. The ADA amendments will right the ship and make it easier for New Jersey employees and employers to work together to end disability discrimination.