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Toyota v. Williams case concerns definition of "disability" under Americans iwth Disabilities Act

On Nov. 7, the Supreme Court heard 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 the millions of workers with repetitive motion injuries use the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Supreme Courtlistens to "How disabled is 'disabled'?" in oral arguments. Washington Post | New York Times.

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 disabiility. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sided with Williams, remanding the case to the District Court for a trial on the evidence; Toyota appealed again.

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.

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 Assocations 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 have both submitted amicus briefs.

Bazelon's information and its brief can be found at

Read the brief of the National Council on Disability at


Read more on the meaning of "disability" under ADA.






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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