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Disability Discrimination: U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Disability discrimination encompasses different aspects of unfavorable treatment such as harassment in the workplace or inaccessibility to buildings and businesses. Specifically, this form of discrimination occurs when an entity covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504 treats an individual unfairly because they have a disability, a history of a disability, or is closely associated with someone who has a disability. The United States Supreme Court has decided many cases that deal with disability discrimination in various settings such as employment, public accommodations, and more.

Below is a list of U.S. Supreme Court cases involving the rights of disabled persons and disability discrimination, including 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 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp. (1998) In this case, the Supreme Court revisits the issue of whether a collective bargaining agreement requiring arbitration can prohibit the party from taking their EEO claim to federal court. The Court held that the collective bargaining agreement at issue did not contain a clear and unmistakable waiver. Therefore the charging party could pursue his employment discrimination claim in court.
  • Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp. (1999) The Supreme Court agrees with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) position that a plaintiff can go forward with his or her Americans with Disabilities Act case despite having filed an earlier claim for disability under the Social Security Act alleging he or she is unable to work.
  • Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (1999) In this case, the Court explains how to determine whether an impairment "substantially limits" a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act (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 denied the right of employees to sue their employers for money damages for violations of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky Inc. v. Williams (2002) (super seceded by The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)). The Court holds that a person is substantially limited in a major life activity, within the meaning of the ADA, if he or she has "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 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a neutral no-rehire policy is a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for refusing to hire an employee who had a record of drug addiction.
  • Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. (2005) The Court determined that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applied to foreign cruise ships in American waters.
  • Fry v. Napolean Community Schools (2017) The Court clarifies the definition of "disabled" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and allows students to bring lawsuits directly under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) without requesting an administrative hearing under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when their claim is not related to the adequacy of their education.
  • Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, PLLC (2022) The Court holds that a person who sues 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. Dealing with a mental or physical disability can be very difficult, but being discriminated against because of it is unacceptable. Has your disability made you a target for unfair treatment? Has the treatment resulted in lower wages, denial of housing rights, or some other injustice? If you suspect that you have been discriminated in this way, then you should talk to a civil rights attorney who deals with discrimination issues.

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