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Overview -- Supreme Court Ruling in Alabama v. Garrett

From the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems

Feb. 21, 2001 -- Today's decision is a blow to the rights of people with disabilities. By the narrowest of margins (5-4), the Supreme Court ruled that state employees can no longer sue their employers for money damages under the ADA.

The decision continues this Supreme Court's trend of chipping away at federal civil rights protections in the name of states' rights.

In doing so, the Court virtually ignored the extensive record of discrimination by states against people with disabilities. As Justice Breyer so aptly noted in his dissenting opinion, "the legislative record bears out Congress' finding that the adverse treatment of person with disabilities was often arbitrary or invidious. . . " 'It is difficult to see how the Court can find the legislative record here inadequate. . . the record indicates that state governments subjected those with disabilities to seriously adverse, disparate treatment..."

Indeed, the ADA was the result of strong bi-partisan efforts in Congress, and was signed into law by former President Bush (who also filed a brief in the Garrett case in support of the ADA). Disability advocates hope that the current Bush administration will continue to strongly support and enforce the ADA.

While today's decision rolls back the protections afforded by Congress, it is imperative to note that this decision affects only the ability of people with disabilities to sue state employers in federal court for money damages in employment discrimination cases.

The ruling does not prevent individual suits against a state employer for injunctive relief, nor does it bar suits initiated by the federal government for money damages.

The ruling likewise does not bar suits for money damages against private employers or local governments.

Perhaps most importantly, the Court explicitly declined to rule on the constitutionality of Title II of the ADA, which applies to state and local government programs. As a result, the Olmstead decision and other similar decisions are unaffected by today's ruling.

The Garrett case involved two state employees with disabilities in Alabama -- Patricia Garrett, a registered nurse with breast cancer, and Milton Ash, a corrections officer with severe asthma. Both suffered job discrimination because of their disabilities.

Statement of Center







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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