Disability Discrimination: U.S. Supreme Court Cases
Disability discrimination consists of unfavorable treatment based on an actual or perceived disability. Examples are harassment in the workplace or inaccessibility to buildings and businesses. This form of discrimination occurs when an entity covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) mistreats an individual because they:
- Have a disability
- Have a history of disability
- Are closely associated with someone who has a disability
Disabilities include developmental disabilities and mental disabilities, including mental illness. The United States Supreme Court has decided many cases that deal with disability discrimination. These cases address protecting the rights of people in various settings. These settings include employment, public accommodations, public schools, and health care.
To arrive at the Supreme Court, a case usually begins in a lower court, often a district court. Then, it moves up to a court of appeals before arriving at the Supreme Court.
Below is a list of U.S. Supreme Court cases. The cases involve disability discrimination and the rights of disabled people. There are links to the full text of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
- Bragdon v. Abbott (1998)—The Court holds that HIV infection qualifies as a disability under the ADA.
- Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp. (1998)—The Supreme Court revisits the issue of whether a collective bargaining agreement requiring arbitration can prohibit a party from taking their EEO claim to federal court. The agreement requires arbitration. The Court holds there is no clear and unmistakable waiver. Thus, the charging party can pursue his employment discrimination claim in court.
- Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp. (1999)—The Supreme Court agrees with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) position. The Court holds that a plaintiff can proceed with their Americans with Disabilities Act case. This is despite having filed an earlier claim for disability under the Social Security Act alleging they cannot work.
- Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (1999)—The Court explains how to determine whether an impairment "substantially limits" a major life activity under the ADA.
- Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc. (1999)—The Court clarifies the definition of "disabled" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett (2001)—The Court denies the right of employees to sue their employers for money damages for violations of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title I prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
- Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky Inc. v. Williams (2002) [superseded by The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)]—The Court holds that, under the ADA, a person is substantially limited in a major life activity if they have "an impairment that prevents or significantly restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people's daily lives."
- Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez (2003)—The Court finds that under the ADA, a neutral no-rehire policy is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for refusing to hire an employee with a record of drug addiction.
- Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. (2005)—The Court determines that the ADA applies to foreign cruise ships in American waters.
- Fry v. Napolean Community Schools (2017)—The Court clarifies the definition of "disabled" under the ADA. The Court allows students to bring lawsuits directly under the ADA and Section 504 when a claim isn't related to the adequacy of education. Requesting an administrative hearing under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) isn't needed.
- Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, PLLC (2022)—The Court holds that a person suing for disability discrimination under the Affordable Care Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 cannot recover damages for emotional distress.
Obtain Legal Help for Your Disability Discrimination Claim
U.S. Supreme Court cases describe the government's intolerance of disability discrimination. Being discriminated against on the basis of disability is unacceptable. Has your disability made you a target for unfair treatment? You have protections under federal and sometimes state law. There are even times when the Attorney General will bring an action to enforce the ADA. This could be under Title II, Title III, or other provisions of the ADA. You may be entitled to reasonable accommodation for things like mental health challenges. Talk to a civil rights attorney who deals with disability rights.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
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Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.