Lambda Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold Protections for Disabled Workers

To be argued Wednesday, case affects people with HIV and AIDS who want to work

Date

Date: 
02/22/1999

(NEW YORK, February 22, 1999) -- In a case to be heard this Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will address a question that may define the availability of workplace protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said.

Lambda, which represents 48 major medical, public health, disability and civil rights organizations as amicus in the case, said the results are likely to mean the difference between work and unemployment for many people with HIV, AIDS, and other disabling conditions.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument in Carolyn Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems on Wednesday, February 24, at 10 a.m. Lambda AIDS Project Director Catherine Hanssens will be available to discuss the case before and after the hearing.

At issue in Cleveland is whether a person who loses her or his job because of disability-based discrimination that would be actionable under the ADA forfeits the right to try to regain that job or obtain damages if she or he later filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits.

"The ADA and federal disability programs are meant to be complimentary, not exclusionary, to help people remain employed when possible, regardless of having a disabling condition," said Hanssens, who wrote the Lambda friend-of-the-court brief.

Hanssens added, "It is cruel, twisted logic for employers to use one vital government program as an excuse to permanently lock out people with disabilities from the workplace security that Congress sought to guarantee when it passed the ADA."

Cleveland suffered a stroke in 1994 that left her with residual medical problems and a speech impediment. Management at her Dallas employer, Policy Management Systems, mocked her disability, refused to consider her request for reasonable workplace accommodations, then fired her. The company insisted that she forfeited her right to protection against discrimination under the ADA when she filed for Social Security disability benefits.

In its brief, Lambda highlights the fact that both the ADA and Social Security benefits have the same goal of encouraging the employment of people with disabilities. The ADA protects people with disabilities while on the job, requiring reasonable accommodations to help them keep working. Social Security provides some income for those unable to work because of their disabling conditions.

Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn said, "With the accommodations the ADA requires, many people with HIV, AIDS, and other disabling conditions can continue to work. When illegally refused such accommodations and forced out of their jobs, disabled workers have the right to use the ADA to fight discrimination, whether or not they have turned to Social Security for financial help."

She continued, "As people with HIV live longer, they increasingly need to rely on both the ADA and Social Security. Their desire to retain jobs or return to work should be encouraged, not penalized."

Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. Last year, it served as co-counsel to major medical and public health associations that were amici in Bragdon v. Abbott, the first HIV-ADA case before the U.S. Supreme Court.


(Carolyn C. Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems, Case No. 97-1008

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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984 (pager)

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