Academic journal article Journal of Corporation Law

I Hear Ya' Knockin', So You Can Come In: The Americans with Disabilities Act Limited to Physical Structures and Individualized Discrimination under Parker V. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co

Academic journal article Journal of Corporation Law

I Hear Ya' Knockin', So You Can Come In: The Americans with Disabilities Act Limited to Physical Structures and Individualized Discrimination under Parker V. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

"In recent years, the economic and social mainstream of American life has experienced significant change due to technological advances. An increasing array of products and services are becoming available for purchase by telephone order, through the mail, via the Internet, and other communications media."1 When technology advances, the law must change and adapt as well. Unfortunately, a recent case interpreting Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has limited the scope of Title III to discrimination within physical structures,2 discrimination involving public goods as opposed to non-public goods,3 and has excluded some employer-provided insurance plans from Title III application.4 The long-term impact of this ruling will allow employer-provided insurance plans to exclude certain types of disabilities from coverage, such as those stemming from mental disabilities.5

In Parker v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.,6 the Sixth Circuit sitting en banc established an outer limit of protection against disability discrimination under Title III of the ADA. This Comment addresses whether the Sixth Circuit correctly held that Title III of the ADA does not prohibit insurance companies from providing partial mentaldisability benefits as compared to full physical-disability benefits through an employerprovided benefit plan. Part II of this Comment describes the law in the First Circuit, also the first circuit to resolve this issue. Part III of this Comment discusses the rationale behind Parker by following the case beginning with the district court's decision and ending with the Sixth Circuit's en banc decision. Part IV analyzes the Sixth Circuit's reasoning and concludes that the court incorrectly found that Title III did not apply, both as a matter of plain meaning and as a matter of congressional intent. Finally, this Comment concludes that the Supreme Court or Congress will need to provide guidance to resolve the conflict among the Circuits.7

II. BACKGROUND

Congress enacted the ADA to "provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities."8 Specifically, Congress enacted the ADA to provide disabled individuals the same access to goods and services as is provided to non-disabled individuals.9 Title III of the ADA was designed to "bring individuals with disabilities into the economic and social mainstream of American life."10 In order to meet these goals, Congress prohibited "place[s] of public accommodation" 11 from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.12

A recent concern surrounding the ADA 13 stems from the Sixth Circuit's narrow interpretation of Title III.14 The court created a Title III exception for private entities who offer goods and services through an employer-an employer not being a place of public accommodation15-such as insurance companies offering disability benefits through employer-provided insurance plans. Consequently, insurance offices, explicitly listed as places of public accommodation under Title III,16 may discriminate against individuals with disabilities by excluding them from coverage under insurance plans offered through employers.

The First Circuit in Carparts Distribution Center v. Automotive Wholesaler's Ass'n of New England, Inc.17 was the first federal appellate court to rule on this issue. The court found that, according to the plain meaning of Title III and the congressional intent behind the statute, places of public accommodation are not limited to physical structures, and, consequently, it held that insurance companies may not discriminate against types of disabilities within an insurance plan.18 Carparts involved an insurance plan that limited benefits for AIDS-related illnesses to $25,000.19 Otherwise, the plan provided benefits of up to $1 million per plan member.20 The district court found that Title III did not apply to the benefit plan because the plan was not an "actual physical structure[] which a person physically enters for the purpose of utilizing the facilities. …

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