Supreme Court Ruling Protects States From Damages In Disability Discrimination Suits
Rules, Penalties Stay the Same for Private Employers
(RIVERWOODS, ILL., February 23, 2001) A closely divided Supreme Court reined in
the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act, holding that state employees cannot use
the Act to collect damages for alleged disability discrimination by their state employers.
"While reinforcing states rights, the Courts decision does not, however,
protect employers in the private sector from potential for damages under the ADA,"
according to James Taylor, JD, an employment discrimination law analyst for CCH
INCORPORATED (CCH), a leading provider of employment law and human resources information.
"The holding is important for several reasons with respect to the protection it
extends to states," said Taylor, "but private employers in no way should
interpret this to be a relaxation of the federal requirements with which they must
Decision Continues Courts Trend of Reinforcing States Rights
In the five-to-four decision, the Court continued its shift towards state autonomy from
federal oversight by finding that Congress exceeded its powers when it tried to eliminate
the states Eleventh Amendment immunity to federal court suits.
"The decision is significant for states in that it resolves a split in the federal
circuits regarding state immunity to ADA suits," said Taylor. "It also is
important because it clarifies and supplements the Kimel v Florida Bd of Regents decision,
where the Court similarly held that Congress exceeded its powers in attempting to
curtail state immunity to suits brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment
Taylor also noted that the decision does not leave state employees without recourse.
"Every state protects state employees from disability discrimination through state
laws that allow disability bias victims to recover monetary damages," said Taylor.
"In fact, all states had in place disability discrimination protection laws before
the ADA was enacted in 1990."
In the consolidated cases before the Court, Patricia Garrett, a registered nurse, was
employed as a Director of Nursing for the University of Alabama in Birmingham Hospital.
After Garrett was diagnosed with breast cancer and took substantial leave from work, she
was told she would have to give up her Director position and was transferred to another,
lower-paying position as a nurse manager.
Milton Ash, who suffered from chronic asthma, worked as a security officer for the
Alabama Department of Youth Services. His doctor recommended he avoid carbon monoxide and
cigarette smoke, and Ash requested that the Department modify his duties to minimize his
exposure to these substances, but the Department did not accommodate his request. Both
individuals sued under the ADA.
For Private Employers, the Rules Stay the Same
The Court held that since there is scant evidence of state government discrimination
against persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities are not entitled to
heightened protection under the Equal Protection Clause.
"This is a constitutional law case regarding states rights, not a case about
private employers under the ADA," said Taylor. "Its important to keep in
mind that the Courts holding on the availability of damages under the ADA applies
only at the state level, to state employers," he said. "The holding does not
signal any change to the requirements private employers must meet, or the damages they may
be liable for if they violate the ADA."
About CCH INCORPORATED
CCH INCORPORATED, headquartered in Riverwoods, Ill., was founded in 1913 and has
served four generations of business professionals and their clients. The company produces
more than 700 electronic and print products for the tax, legal, securities, human
resources, health care and small business markets. CCH is a wholly owned subsidiary of
Wolters Kluwer U.S. The CCH web site can be accessed at www.cch.com. The CCH Human Resources Group site can be accessed at http://hr.cch.com.
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