Supreme Court to Hear Argument in Major Test for ADA

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Lambda urges Court not to have protections for people with HIV/AIDS taken away
October 5, 2000

(NEW YORK, October 5, 2000) — In a case critical for people with HIV, AIDS, and other disabilities, 20 civil rights organizations urge the United States Supreme Court to uphold the Americans with Disabilities Act’s protections against discrimination by state agencies, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday.


“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’s AIDS Project director, said before the argument.

Hanssens authored Lambda’s amicus brief, joined by 19 other civil rights groups including the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and People for the American Way, which argues that Congress acted appropriately in passing a federal law banning disability-based discrimination by states as well as private businesses.

Hanssens and other representatives from the civil rights groups will be available to the media after the Court hears argument in the case, University of Alabama v. Garrett, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 11.

“Recently, the Court has decided a number of cases favoring states’ rights. It would be a mistake to do so in this case. When Congress created the ADA in 1990, it documented the long history of rampant state discrimination that is particularly severe against people with disabilities,” Hanssens said, adding, “That discrimination has not gone away, and the Court, in its march to expand states’ rights, should not turn its back on those facing HIV-related discrimination by the states.”

She stressed that the importance of the ADA as a tool against HIV-related state discrimination makes this case particularly critical for Lambda clients.

The plaintiffs in the case, state employees Patricia Garrett and Milton Ash, won in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the state of Alabama appealed, arguing that the ADA provision asking states to provide “reasonable accommodation” for state employees is an unconstitutional encroachment of states’ rights.

Garrett, a nurse at the University of Alabama, was encouraged to leave her job once the university found out that she had been diagnosed with cancer. After taking an unpaid leave of absence for treatment, she was demoted. Ash, a security guard who has severe asthma, sleep apnea and other health problems, asked his employer to enforce a no-smoking rule and maintain the truck he must drive so he would not get sick and be forced to leave his job.

Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. Headquartered in New York, Lambda has regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

WHAT: U.S. Supreme Court hears University of Alabama v. Garrett WHO: Lambda AIDS Project Director Catherine Hanssens will be available for comment following the hearing WHERE: Plaza outside U.S. Supreme Court, Washington D.C. WHEN: Wednesday, October 11, immediately following the oral argument scheduled for 10:00 a.m.

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(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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