Rescue the Americans with Disabilities Act from Restrictive Interpretations: Alcoholism as an Illustration
The Supreme Court has narrowed the doorway into the protected class for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) in virtually every employment case. Taking their cue from the Supreme Court, the lower courts have been concerned principally with who is "disabled" and thus protected by the ADA. The answer today is not many people. The courts generally have been so hostile to ADA plaintiffs that it is difficult now to find a case in which the plaintiff was able to prove that he was disabled. Congress contemplated that some impairments would always be disabling. The Supreme Court, however, has so narrowly construed the term "significantly limited in a major life activity," which defines the protected class, that many impairments formerly considered to be inevitably disabling, such as alcoholism, are no longer protected by the ADA. Congress referred to alcoholism many times in the legislative history, and included a specific reference to alcoholism in the statute. For this reason, and because alcoholics tend to be discriminated against because they are not perceived to have a "real illness," I have chosen alcoholism to illustrate the extreme difficulty of proving a disability under the current case law.
27 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 169 (2007).