The Americans With Disabilities Act Civil Rights Law Is 25 Years Old

The ADA forbids illegal discrimination in the workplace based on mental or physical disability.

July 26, 2015, marks a quarter century since President George H.W. Bush signed the landmark federal civil rights law the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA. The ADA forbids covered employers from discriminating against or allowing harassment of otherwise qualified job applicants and employees based on their physical or mental disabilities.

The ADA states that discrimination against people with disabilities is a "serious and pervasive social problem" that previously lacked consistent legal recourse. The law states that U.S. goals for people with disabilities include "equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency ..."

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC has established an informational page on its website to mark the anniversary. The EEOC is the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA, along with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Over the 25 years since its signing, the ADA has been extensively interpreted by courts, and by the EEOC through its regulations, administrative decisions and other agency statements. Congress enacted important amendments in 2008. For these reasons, it is important for anyone facing workplace discrimination based on his or her disability to seek the advice and representation of an employment attorney who has experience in this complex and developing area of the law.

Likewise, employers covered under the Act should have ongoing legal counsel to keep abreast of what the ADA requires of them, for help with compliance and for representation if accused of disability discrimination.

Significant protections against disability discrimination also exist in state law.

From his office in Wilmington, Delaware, Martin D. Haverly, Attorney at Law, represents both employees suffering illegal employment discrimination based on disability as well as employers of all sizes facing ADA-related issues in Delaware and Pennsylvania. In addition to issues of illegal discrimination, he also represents clients in matters of wrongful termination, harassment, employer retaliation and other employment issues.

The ADA applies to private employers with at least 15 employees, state and local government employers, employment agencies and labor unions. The same standards apply to federal government employers through other laws.

Disability is defined as any one of three conditions:

  • When a physical or mental impairment "substantially limits" at least one "major life activity" like self-care, "performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, ... working" and other similar functions; limitation is to be assessed before considering the impact of "mitigating measures" like medication, medical equipment, assistive technology, behavioral modification and so on
  • When a disabling impairment is on record, such as being in remission or occurring episodically
  • When the person is "regarded as" having an impairment

In determining whether someone has a disability, the law requires broad coverage and inclusion of individuals.

The ADA's general rule is that the employer may not discriminate against a qualified person (who can perform the essential functions of the job) based on disability in hiring, advancement, termination, compensation or any other term, condition or privilege of work. An employer must make reasonable accommodations that would allow the otherwise qualified person to perform the job unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer's business.

Reasonable accommodations can include physical adaptations to work spaces or stations; modifications to schedules, equipment, training and more; use of readers or interpreters; and other similar techniques.

This only introduces a complicated area of law that involves the interplay of federal and state laws, agencies and courts. Remedies for violations may include administrative action at the agency level or lawsuits.