6th Cir. Weighs Broader Disability Definition of ADA Amendments

By Robert Iafolla: For More Info, Go Here…

The Sixth Circuit will hear oral argument over whether a federal judge improperly threw out a former scrap yard worker’s disability bias lawsuit based on outdated legal standards that Congress amended more than a decade ago.

Jacqueline Harrison, with the backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, challenged a lower court ruling that her knee injury didn’t qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Harrison sued Parts Galore and its corporate parent, Soave Enterprises, for allegedly failing to accommodate her injury and then firing her because of it. The companies argue that the district court was correct to toss her lawsuit.

The case highlights what legal scholars say is a widespread problem of the federal bench ignoring the impact of the ADA Amendments Act, a 2008 measure that broadened the class of people who qualify for legal protection based on their disabilities. Despite Congress expressly responding to rulings that had narrowed the definition of disability under the ADA, courts have misstated the law and wrongly applied pre-amendment precedent that is too narrow and no longer valid, scholars say.

Courts cited outdated precedent or the wrong law in approximately 13 percent of cases that addressed the definition of disability from the start of 2014 to the end of 2018, according to Nicole Buonocore Porter, a law professor at the University of Toledo. Porter reviewed nearly 1,000 cases decided during that time period, finding that courts erroneously ruled workers didn’t have disabilities in 210 of them.

“The problem is when courts get the law wrong, then other courts are going to rely on that,” Porter said. “Regardless if plaintiffs win on the merits, getting the law wrong on the definition of disability ends up having an impact on future cases.”

Misapplications of law have the potential to spread like a “terminal virus” in the body of ADA precedent because the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to step in and overturn a vast majority of them, said Ann McGinley, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law professor who’s written treatises on disability law.

Possible drivers for these mistakes included heavy judicial caseloads, poor legal research by clerks, and bad lawyering, scholars said.

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