Supreme Court Ponders ADA Reach

November 7, 2001( - The Supreme Court wrestled with the question of how disabled a person must be in order to qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The case before the court involved Ella Williams, a former Toyota assembly line worker who claimed to have been fired because her carpal tunnel syndrome made it impossible for her to do her job – polishing cars (see Disability Law Limits to Be Tested ).

She believes that the automaker should have given her an alternative position in terms of the ADA.

A federal appeals court held that William?s her inability to polish cars on the assembly line constituted a disability under the law, overturning a lower court?s dismissal of her claim.

Toyota then brought the decision to the Supreme Court, countering that Williams’s inability to perform manual tasks on an assembly line is not the kind of broad physical impairment the ADA was intended to cover.

Question of Justice

Justice Antonin Scalia questioned whether the law should cover a person who cannot constantly extend her elbow, and whether this was Congress?s intention when it passed the ADA.

Justice Sandra Day O?Connor questioned whether the complaints hadn?t already been addressed by the workers? compensation system, but Williams?s lawyer countered that a successful workers’ compensation claim could be “probative but not preclusive” of an ADA suit.

She also questioned whether the court should try to decide the case by looking at what Williams “cannot do, still can do, or both?”