DOES AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2008 APPLY RETROACTIVELY?

 

In 2008, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (“ADAAA”), which expanded the protections of the ADA to include those who have an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment “whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.” In passing this bill, Congress expressly rejected several Supreme Court decisions that took a more narrow view of the ADA. The question that remains is what standard applies to cases of alleged discrimination that occurred prior to the ADAAA?

 

It appears that several courts have looked at this issue and reached different conclusions. In Rohr v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement & Power District, out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while not addressing the issue directly, the court noted that “the ADAAA sheds light on Congress’ original intent when it enacted the ADA” in 1990 and suggests it may be appropriate to read the amendments to allow for protection to a broader class of individuals, even in cases where the alleged discrimination occurred prior to the enactment of the ADAAA. However, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana reached a different conclusion in the matter of Brooks v. Kirby Risk Corp. and found that the more limited standard endorsed by the Supreme Court applies to claims prior to the ADAAA, which went into effect in January of 2009, should be applied to these types of cases. The Brooks court notes that the Seventh, Fifth, Sixth and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals have taken the view that the broader protections of the ADAAA only apply to actions of alleged discrimination after its enactment, while the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits have declined to decide the issue, but at least implied they could by applied to actions prior to the effective date of the ADAAA.

 

Interestingly, if the Circuit Courts continue to split on this issue, it may be the Supreme Court, whose analysis of the ADA was expressly overturned by the ADAAA, that may get the last word on this issue. Unless, of course, Congress decides that the Supreme Court gets it wrong and decides to amend again.