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Americans with Disabilities Act

By: Mariela Pulido

History of the act
The signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that took place on July 26, 1990 and
was the world's first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. Like other pieces
of civil rights legislation, this law works to ensure a more inclusive America, one where every
person has the right to participate in all sectors of society and be recognized for his or her
accomplishments. Its passage paved the way for millions of Americans with disabilities to
positively contribute to their communities in a variety of ways, including employment.

Major provisions of the act
The American with Disabilities Act gave civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities.
This act guaranteed them equal opportunities in employment, public accommodation,
transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications. It made sure that
they were treated equally despite their physical condition.

Who is protected by the ADA?
The ADA protects a person with a disability who is qualified for the job.
The ADA does not provide a list of disabilities. The ADA has a legal test to decide if a person
has a condition that is severe enough to be an ADA disability.
The ADA defines a current disability as:
•a medical condition or disorder (called impairment)
•that substantially limits a person in doing basic activities (called major life activities).
The ADA also protects a person who has a record of a disability or is regarded as having a

Enforcement of the ADA and its Regulations
Private parties may bring lawsuits to obtain court orders to stop discrimination. No monetary
damages will be available in such suits. A reasonable attorney's fee, however, may be awarded.
Individuals may also file complaints with the Attorney General who is authorized to bring
lawsuits in cases of general public importance or where a "pattern or practice" of discrimination
is alleged. In suits brought by the Attorney General, monetary damages (not including punitive
damages) and civil penalties may be awarded. Civil penalties may not exceed $50,000 for a first
violation or $100,000 for any subsequent violation.

Situations in which this law can in handy
A 1993 jury verdict finding a security firm had discharged its executive director because
he had terminal brain cancer, although he had continued to perform the essential
functions of his job. On behalf of the charging party, EEOC secured $220,000 in back
pay, compensatory relief, and punitive damages.
A 1999 jury verdict against Chuck E. Cheese pizza chain, where the Commission alleged
that the defendant discriminatorily discharged an employee because of his mental
retardation. Although the employee was able to work productively with the aid of a job
coach, and the local manager and staff supported his retention, the employee was fired by
a regional manager who stated that the company did not employ "those kinds of people."
Ultimately, EEOC won a jury award of $10,000 in back pay, $70,000 in compensatory
damages for emotional distress, and a record $13 million in punitive damages (later
reduced to $230,000 because of the statutory cap on punitive damages).