EEOC Issues Final Regulations for the ADAAA

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
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On March 24, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued final regulations governing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The final regulations take effect May 24, 2011. This advisory briefly summarizes key aspects of the final regulations.

Highlights

Disability claims are up 17 percent since the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act took effect in January 2009. The new regulations will likely continue this trend.

The concept of a “major life activity” has been broadened to include reproductive and other bodily functions.

The definition for “substantial limitation” has been relaxed. Except for eyeglasses and contact lenses, the use of mitigating measures may no longer be used to determine whether an individual is disabled. More important, a physical or mental impairment does not need to severely or significantly restrict a major life activity to be considered “substantially limiting.”

A new test has been established for “regarded as” claims. Individuals will no longer have to show that an employer regarded them as having an impairment that substantially limited a major life activity. Instead, a claim will exist if the employer made an adverse employment decision based on an actual or perceived impairment, unless the impairment is transitory or minor.

Focus on whether discrimination occurred and not whether individual is disabled

The ADAAA and the final regulations are intended to shift the focus from whether or not an individual is disabled to whether or not an employer discriminated against an individual. Congress and the EEOC intend that key concepts be broadly construed to afford individuals with greater protection. Congress also intended to legislatively overrule cases that made it difficult for individuals to establish that they were entitled to relief. The final regulations and interpretive guidance provide that the determination of whether someone is “substantially limited” in a “major life activity” should “not demand extensive analysis” and “usually will not require scientific, medical or statistical analysis.”

How is “disability” defined?

The final regulations keep the ADA’s three-part definition of “disability”: A disability is (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or (3) being regarded as having a disability. What’s changed is how these terms should be interpreted.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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