NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Other ADA Decisions Left For Another Day

June 24, 1999

Observers say the Supreme Court has gone a long way toward setting a rational course in its recent decisions limiting the scope of the American with Disabilities Act. It emphatically rejected the government's broad definition of disabilities -- which had included the need to wear eyeglasses and take medication for high blood pressure.

By finding these conditions correctable and therefore not disabilities, the court has brought an end to years of costly and harassing litigation.

However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Justice Department are not through yet. Here are some other issues on their agendas:

  • Following the Valdez oil spill, Exxon Corp. prohibited employees with a history of alcohol and drug abuse from holding safety-sensitive positions -- a prudent step considering that the captain of the Valdez was found to have been intoxicated on the night of the spill.
  • But the EEOC is vigorously pursuing Exxon by demanding that it prove that each individual excluded from a safety- sensitive position poses a "direct threat" to the safety of others in the workplace before it can bar a recovering alcoholic or drug abuser from a safety-sensitive job.
  • Also, the EEOC has filed a series of lawsuits claiming that employers engage in unlawful "discrimination" if they offer an insurance plan that provides greater benefits for some medical conditions than for others.
  • The agency takes this position even though the legislative history of the ADA makes it clear that "it is permissible for an employer to offer insurance policies that limit coverage for certain procedures or treatments, e.g., only a specified amount per year for mental health coverage."

Legal observers warn that unless and until the EEOC and the Justice Department begin to take Supreme Court decisions seriously, businesses face a long and expensive battle against the government's efforts to use the ADA to transform the American workplace in a way that few members of Congress envisioned when they wrote the law.

Source: Thomas G. Hungar (lawyer), "A Clear-Sighted View of the ADA," Wall Street Journal, June 24, 1999.


Browse more articles on Government Issues