Tags: Supreme | Court | Limits | Disability | Law

Supreme Court Limits Disability Law

Tuesday, 08 January 2002 12:00 AM

The court ruled Tuesday that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not necessarily protect those with impairments that prevent them from doing manual tasks associated with a particular job.

The unanimous decision was bad news for anyone who performs some manual task as part of a job, from assembly-line workers who perform repeated motions to computer programmers who type in endless lines of source code.

The decision also means workers may have to show an impairment with effects substantially beyond the workplace, one that reaches into the most intimate parts of their lives, before a company can be forced under law to "accommodate" their disabilities.

The decision came in the case of Ella Williams, who began working at the Toyota factory in Georgetown, Ky., in August 1990.

Her duties on the assembly line included work with pneumatic tools, which she said eventually caused acute pain in her hands, wrists and arms.

A company doctor diagnosed her with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis, and her personal doctor restricted how much weight she could lift and told her she should no longer work with pneumatic tools.

Toyota tried to accommodate her disability by placing Williams on modified duty over the next two years, but the employee eventually filed a claim under state workers' compensation.

When she returned to work, she again had trouble doing what Toyota required of her, and Williams filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

That suit was settled and Williams returned to work, but her new job eventually required her to apply highlight oil to cars passing on the assembly line, something that made her raise her arms to shoulder height for hours at a time.

Williams again sought help from the company doctor, who diagnosed her as having, among other things, inflammation of muscles and tendons around her shoulder blades, nerve irritation and "thoracic outlet compression," causing pain in the nerves that lead to the arms.

At this point, employer and employee disagree as to the record. Williams says Toyota wanted her to continue in her duties, which she refused for medical reasons. Toyota says Williams simply began to miss work.

On Dec. 6, 1996, Williams received a letter from her doctors saying she could do no work of any kind at the plant. The following month, she received a letter from Toyota that terminated her employment.

After her complaint was approved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Williams again filed suit against Toyota, saying the company had violated the ADA by failing to reasonably accommodate her disability and by firing her.

The ADA requires companies to reasonably accommodate those who suffer a physical or mental impairment "that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities ... ."

Williams' suit said she was substantially limited in performing manual tasks, housework, gardening, playing with her children, lifting and working.

A federal judge ruled summarily for Toyota. But a federal appeals court reversed. The company then asked the Supreme Court for review.

The justices heard arguments in November.

Tuesday, they reversed the appeals court in favor of the company, and in doing so, substantially narrowed the protection of the ADA.

In the court's unanimous opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the appeals court made a mistake in its definition of a "major life activity."

The "manual tasks unique to any particular job are not necessarily important parts of most people's lives," O'Connor wrote in her opinion. "As a result, occupation-specific tasks may have only limited relevance to the manual task inquiry" under the ADA.

The appeals court "should not have considered [Williams'] inability to do such manual work in her specialized assembly line job as sufficient proof that she was substantially limited in performing manual tasks," O'Connor said.

"At the same time, the court of appeals appears to have disregarded the very type of evidence that it should have focused upon," she added. "It treated as irrelevant" the fact that Williams can tend "to her personal hygiene" and carry out "personal or household chores.

"Yet household chores, bathing and brushing one's teeth are among the types of manual tasks of central importance to people's daily lives, and should have been part of the assessment of whether [Williams] was subtantially limited in performing manual tasks," O'Connor said.

Tuesday's ruling sends the case back down to the appeals court for a new decision based on the Supreme Court's unanimous opinion. Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

All rights reserved.

© 2019 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

   
1Like our page
2Share
Pre-2008
The court ruled Tuesday that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not necessarily protect those with impairments that prevent them from doing manual tasks associated with a particular job. The unanimous decision was bad news for anyone who performs some manual task as...
Supreme,Court,Limits,Disability,Law
743
2002-00-08
Tuesday, 08 January 2002 12:00 AM
Newsmax Media, Inc.
 

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

NEWSMAX.COM
America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved