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How new ADA amendments may affect you
Jim Juliano - Winter 2008-2009

Amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that took effect Jan. 1, 2009, will significantly broaden the law’s interpretation and scope, meaning more employees and potential employees are likely to qualify for protection.

The amendments broaden the definition of an impairment and prohibit consideration of mitigating measures, such as medication, when determining if an employee qualifies as disabled.

Baseball owners and operators will also want to take note of proposed rules—separate from the amendments—that could affect operations and access to facilities for disabled persons.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It defines an individual with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits” one or more major life activities, has a history of such an impairment or is perceived by others as having such an impairment. It covers two subjects that affect baseball operations—employment rights and access to facilities.

Congressional hearings and other materials suggest Congress primarily intended the amendments to address employment issues.

The amendments prohibit consideration of mitigating measures such as assistive technology accommodations and modifications, as well as medication, when determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity. This means an employer will have to consider an employee’s condition as though it were untreated in determining if the employee is disabled. Eyeglasses and contact lenses are exceptions.

The amendments also lower the standard used to define the impact of an impairment. Recently, the Supreme Court interpreted “substantially limits” as “prevents or severely restricts.” Congress redefined the term as “materially restricts” and stated that the definition of disability should be construed broadly.

The amendments also expand the list of major life activities. As of Jan. 1, the list includes caring for one’s self, manual tasks, eating, sleeping, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working and operation of any bodily function.

The amendments are expected to expand the types of ADA claims that employees may bring. We encourage you to check with legal counsel or a human resource professional to ensure that your employee handbook, other documents and policies comply with the changes.

It is not yet clear whether the amendments will affect ballpark accessibility and operations. But rules proposed by the Department of Justice in June might.

Generally, these proposals would apply to new construction and alterations of facilities, so existing structures should be grandfathered. But certain sections would affect operations. The proposals would require more companion seating. Accessible seating would have to be offered in all stages of the ticketing process, and accessible and companion seating would have to be identified on publicly available seating charts. Also, season or multiple event ticket packages would have to be sold to disabled persons in the same manner as general seating, including allowing the transfer of tickets for single event use by friends and associates in the same fashion as other spectators. The facility would have to provide a portable seat for a nondisabled transferee, if necessary.

It is not known when a decision will be made on these proposed regulations. The Justice Department withdrew them from the review process in January, pending review and approval by the Obama Administration.

Update

The Justice Department's proposed regulations have been superseded by rules proposed by the Obama administration that are pending and under review by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Helpful links

http://www.ada.gov/

http://www.ada.gov/q%26aeng02.htm

http://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/faqs/ADAfaqs.htm

http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_adaaa_nprm.html

Alison C. Healey contributed research and analysis for this article.

 
 
 
 
 

This website contains general information that should not be considered legal advice or legal opinion concerning individual situations. Legal counsel should be consulted for specific advice.

Copyright 2008-2009 by L. James Juliano Jr.
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