Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

The Impact of Federal Labor Policy on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Collective Bargaining Agreements in a New Era of Civil Rights

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

The Impact of Federal Labor Policy on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Collective Bargaining Agreements in a New Era of Civil Rights

Article excerpt


Nearly thirty years have passed since Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of an America where people would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."(1) When Dr. King delivered these famous words, Congress had already taken a major step toward making this dream a reality when it enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.(2) However, because neither Title VII nor subsequent federal civil rights legislation addressed private sector discrimination against the disabled,(3) Americans with disabilities continued to endure unconscionable employment discrimination.(4) The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA or "the Act")(5) in 1990 signaled the recognition of such discrimination and the beginning of a new era of employment equality for the disabled. Borrowing from Dr. King's language, one individual stated that the "'ADA's vision is of an America where persons are judged by their abilities and not on the basis of their disabilities.'"(6)

Even though the ADA is designed to foster equal employment opportunity for the disabled, it appears to conflict with other federal legislation designed to strengthen the position of employees vis-a-vis their employers through the process of collective bargaining. This comment examines these conflicts and proposes that, in spite of apparent inconsistencies between federal labor laws and the ADA, neither supersedes the other and both are necessary to promote and protect the civil rights of the disabled. Part II provides an overview of Title I of the ADA, focusing on the duty it imposes on employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled employees. Part III discusses the potential conflicts between the ADA and the National Labor Relations Act.(7) Part IV undertakes a similar analysis of the relationship between the ADA and the Railway Labor Act(8) Finally, Part V reviews the specific issue of reassignment and shows how the federal labor policy promoting collective bargaining interacts with ADA requirements.

This comment concludes by suggesting that both federal labor laws and the ADA have positive roles to play in eliminating employment discrimination against the disabled. The ADA, by recognizing the validity of collective bargaining agreements and their importance in resolving employment disputes, encourages the continued use of the collective bargaining process and arbitration to protect disabled employees from discrimination. Federal labor laws do not contradict the ADA because, while they certainly are capable of addressing the grievances of individual employees, the laws are primarily concerned with protecting the right of employees to speak collectively. The ADA, on the other hand, is civil rights legislation specifically designed to provide individual remedies for employees. While a disabled employee may be able to obtain redress through appropriate arbitration proceedings, he must be able to obtain relief in federal court under the ADA when his rights are not protected under the collective bargaining agreement.


A comprehensive and sweeping statute, the ADA is composed of several different sections, each of which was enacted to eradicate a particular form of discrimination against the disabled.(9) All of the sections are significant, but the core of the Act is Title I, which prohibits all forms of employment discrimination.(1O) Pervasive discriminatory practices against disabled employees and job applicants are well documented;(11) the purpose of Title I is to ensure the elimination of such practices by imposing affirmative duties on employers.(12) The ADA requires every employer covered under the Act(13) to engage in a three-step inquiry regarding its treatment of a disabled individual. Each employer must determine (1) whether the applicant or employee is a qualified individual with a disability,(14) (2) whether the applicant or employee is capable of performing the job's essential functions,(15) and (3) whether the employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation. …

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