EEOC Makes ‘Historic’ Move to Revise Disability-Proving Rules

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission voted to revise its regulations to conform to changes made by the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, which would make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability. The commission voted 2-1 to adopt the rules changes, at a public meeting last week in Washington, D.C. The five-member body has two vacancies.

The rules changes approved by the vote represent an initial stage in the regulatory process and must next go to the Office of Management and Budget for review, and to federal agencies pursuant to Executive Order 12067, without public comment.

“Today’s vote is historic,” Acting EEOC Vice Chair Christine M. Griffin said on Wednesday. “These regulations will serve to shift the focus of the courts from further narrowing the definition of disability and putting it back to where Congress intended when the ADA was enacted in 1990. Courts should now focus on whether discrimination based on disability is occurring in the workplace. The protections afforded by the ADA AA and these new regulations are important for all workers including our returning wounded warriors who certainly deserve the right to re-enter a workforce free of discrimination.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act, an antidiscrimination statute, was signed into law in July 1990. EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The statute requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees and job applicants with disabilities--defined as people with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, persons with a record of a disability, or who, while not actually disabled, are regarded as disabled.

ADAAA, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2009, makes important changes to the definition of the term "disability" by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of EEOC's prior ADA regulations. The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability as defined by the ADA. The act emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis. ADAAA also states that Congress expects the EEOC to revise its regulations to conform to changes made by the act, and expressly authorizes the EEOC to do so.

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