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Supreme Court takes up definition of disability again
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Nov. 6, 2001 -- Tomorrow, Nov. 7, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case Toyota v. Williams, one of the most important of the Americans with Disabilities Act cases to be taken up by the Court. Can millions of workers with repetitive motion injuries use the Americans with Disabilities Act?

As a worker at a Toyota plant in Kentucky, Ella Williams developed carpal tunnel syndrome from, she says, doing repetitive tasks at the plant. When she got reassigned to another job that her hand problems made it impossible for her to do, she sued Toyota for disability discrimination. The auto company argued that Williams isn't eligible to use the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the lower court ruled that her condition did not constitute a disability. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sided with Williams; Toyota appealed.

Williams' case has pitted her "against Toyota and a coalition of big business and the Bush administration in litigation over whether carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries are covered by key provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act," writes Gaylord Shaw in today's Newsday. "It is an intensely disputed issue with potential impact on millions of assembly line workers - and on millions of others in service and office jobs that require repetitive motions." Read Shaw's story at

The national business community sees the Williams case as a way to eliminate lawsuits they see as expensive -- and able to be stopped altogether if they can just limit the numbers of people who are allowed to use the law in the first place. "This is the Americans with Disabilities Act, not the Americans with Injuries Act," said one industry spokesperson.

It its amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the American Trucking Associations called this "keeping the lid on ADA litigation." If the business community has its way, workers with conditions like Williams' and other "nontraditional" disabilities who face discrimination on the job because of their injuries (repetitive motion injuries accounted for more than a third of the 1.7 million workplace injuries reported in 1999, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) will never even get a chance to make their case in court.

The National Council on Disability and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law have both submitted amicus briefs in defense of Williams' position. Bazelon's information and its brief can be found at -- the National Council on Disability's brief is at

This is not the first time the Court has taken up what it means to be a "person with a disability" under the ADA. Read discussion of this issue from the Center for An Accessible Society website:

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