ADA Amendments: retroactive application will find more disabled claimants

In a case of what may be the future, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit remanded a case for further consideration of the “broad” impact of the Americans With Disability Act Amendments.

In Jenkins v. National Board of Medical Examiners, the plaintiff, a third year medical student, sought and was denied extended time on the United States Medical Licensing Exam.  Prior to then, he had, since a young student, been identified with a reading disorder and received additional time. The trial court rejected his claim under the pre-amendment ADA.  During the appeal, the Amendments took effect and the appeals court reinstated the claim.

While the case was about a legal technical issue involving the retroactive effect of new laws, the court discussed the Amendments. The future of such litigation is suggested by the court highlighting that the under the Amendments the definition of “disability” is “broadened” “to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the [Amendments],”  with the term “substantially limits” being treated similarly.  Although the discussion was in the nature of information not mandate, it appears that the courts will not hold back from finding substantially limiting disabilities in far greater numbers than before.

Eventually, this case will come to end.  It will be interesting to see how a person who has achieved so much academic success, far more than the statistically normal person does, can be substantially limited in the life activity of reading.  If that is the end result, it appears anyone performing below average will end up identified as disabled.  With all due respect to the law, struggling for success is not a disability. But that may be the law.