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Supreme Court Hands Down Cleveland decision

Washington, DC, May 24, 1999. -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that workers with disabilities who apply for Social Security disability benefits are not automatically barred from filing a lawsuit alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as lower court had ruled in the case of Carolyn Cleveland.

This is the first of a number of decisions expected from the Court in the next few weeks clarifying the disability civil rights law.

The unanimous decision in the case Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corporation "recognizes and upholds the rights of individuals receiving benefits under the Social Security Act to be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act," says Matthew Diller, Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University. "The ADA seeks . . . to provide the nation with the benefit of [individuals'] increased productivity," said Justice Stephen G. Breyer in the opinion.

"The ADA defines a 'qualified individual' to include a disabled person 'who . . . can perform the essential functions' of her job 'with reasonable accommodation,' " Breyer wrote. But "[w]hen the [Social Security Administration] determines whether an individual is disabled for SSDI purposes, it does not take the possibility of 'reasonable accommodation' into account."

"An ADA suit claiming that the plaintiff can perform her job with reasonable accommodation may well prove consistent with an SSDI claim that the plaintiff could not perform her own job (or other jobs) without it," said the court.

The decision will affect the 22 million unemployed working-age Americans who are disabled in ways that limit, but do not prevent, their ability to work.

Read the opinion








Expert sources

From the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers:

Historical Context of the ADA

ADA definition of disability

Overview of law's structure

The ADA is changing the landscape of America -- commentary

"The ADA changed my life" -- personal stories

The meaning of "disability" under ADA

"A misunderstood law" -- commentary

The ADA Notification Act

Supreme Court ADA decisions:

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