Lambda Urges Supreme Court to Uphold ADA Protections for State Employees

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Alabama effort to evade federal law could harm people with HIV/AIDS

Date

Date: 
09/13/2000

(NEW YORK, September 13, 2000) — Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, together with 19 other civil rights organizations, is urging the United States Supreme Court to uphold the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as a protection against disability-based discrimination by state agencies.


“When Congress created the ADA, it knew states still were discriminating against their workers with disabilities and disabled people seeking state services, including those with HIV/AIDS. This law was enacted to curb such irrational mistreatment,” Catherine A. Hanssens, Lambda AIDS Project Director, said Wednesday.

Hanssens is author of Lambda’s amicus brief to the High Court in University of Alabama v. Garrett, arguing that Congress acted appropriately in passing a federal law banning disability-based discrimination by states as well as private businesses. The importance of the ADA as a tool against HIV-related state discrimination makes this case particularly critical for Lambda clients.

“The evidence available to Congress on the states’ participation in the widespread exclusion of those with disabilities throughout society, and the need for remedial measures to end unconstitutional state action, demonstrate that the ADA was a congruent and proportional use of Congress’ ... powers,” states the brief, in which Lambda was joined by a host of civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and People for the American Way Foundation.

Noted Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn, “For 10 years, the ADA has been an important source of protection for people with HIV who still are objects of incredible fear and stigma. Over the past two years, however, the ADA has faced a tough battle in the Supreme Court, and this case could be the biggest assault on it yet.”

The disabled individuals in University of Alabama v. Garrett, Patricia Garrett and Milton Ash, were victorious in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in challenging their disability-based discrimination. Garrett, a supervising nurse at the University of Alabama, was encouraged to leave her job once the university found out about her cancer diagnosis. After taking an unpaid leave of absence for chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she was demoted, despite her working with the university for 17 years. Ash has severe asthma, sleep apnea and other serious health problems. He asked his state employer to enforce the no smoking rule in the booth he was stationed in and maintain the truck he drives so he would not get sick from toxic fumes and be forced to leave his job as a security guard.

The state of Alabama appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the ADA’s enforcement of requirements that they not use Garrett’s cancer as an indicator of her value as an employee, and that they provide Ash with a “reasonable accommodation” of his disability, represent an unconstitutional encroachment of states' immunity against being sued in federal courts.

Last term, in separate cases, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of similar challenges to the application of federal law to state agencies, invalidating parts of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Violence Against Women Act.


(University of Alabama v. Garrett, No. 99-1240)

Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 ext. 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Catherine A. Hanssens 212-809-8585 ext. 215

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