The Americans with Disabilities Act

Article excerpt


President George H. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990. Its stated purpose was to provide otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities protected under the act an equal opportunity to employment opportunities, access and other personnel-human resource related issues. It expanded the existing 1973 Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 791) that already applied in scope and jurisdiction to public safety forces such as police and fire departments.

ADA became broader in impact and effect in both the public and private sectors and has raised issues arising out of other personnel matters such as promotions, reasonable accommodation for a legitimately protected disability, transfers, assignments and facility access.

Although employment and labor related issues arising under ADA are enumerated in Title I of the statute, the act was initially very unclear in many respects as to what disposition was an appropriate remedy when applicants or employees raised ADA matters.

Accordingly, these unclear areas as to specific inclusion under the act's definition of "disability," what would constitute "reasonable accommodation" in practical terms, and other ADA areas of uncertainty have become the subject of repeated litigation throughout the federal circuit courts. The lack of specific definition from the U.S. Supreme Court in areas of immediate concern for personnel and human resource specialists has caused disparity and lack of uniformity in the manner in which ADA has been applied and put into practical use throughout this country.

In the decade of the ADA's existence and practical application in this country, there are still no uniform standards to be applied when addressing the daily personnel issues that are a part of the routine operations of both a public sector law enforcement agency or private sector corporation. It is this void that raises the potential for abuse by individual employees.

The ADA is an extremely lengthy and complicated piece of statutory legislation that has become more uncertain in many respects, given the increasing number of federal district and appellate court decisions that have reviewed a myriad of matters covered under the act.

The complex nature of this farreaching federal statute has created, to this date, many unresolved ambiguities in the interpretation of the act, its practical application and, more importantly, its legitimate enforcement.

The specialized requirements and basic qualifications of the nature of the law enforcement community make these areas of ambiguity and interpretation even more important given the sensitive nature of police responsibility to the community.

As the act has become a permanent part of the law enforcement community, it has raised practical problems in personnel issues that extend to sworn and civilian personnel in equal impact, a practical problem that has been addressed and dealt with in a similar fashion both in the non-law enforcement public sector and the general private sector as well.

The entire text of the act can be found in the relevant federal statutes at 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. It applies to all private and public employers, including public safety and law enforcement agencies that employ a minimum of 15 permanent, full time employees.

The ADA was enacted, according to legislative history and testimony, for the purpose of protecting individuals with specifically included "disabilities" defined under the act. In using the term "disability" as compared to the term "handicap," the intent of this statute was to eliminate any negative stereotypes or other derogatory stigmas that would inevitably come to mind if the term "handicap" were used as part of the personnel-human resource vocabulary.

The ADA was enacted to protect disabled individuals, as defined under the act, from discrimination in employment that they were otherwise qualified to perform, ranging from specific requirements for initial employment to the requirement that public buildings, employer controlled workplaces, and other work-related business facilities be modified to provide reasonable access to individuals that are defined as "disabled" under ADA. …