Three recent cases from District Courts in California show just how hard it can be to predict what will happen in an ADA case, at least in the early stages. The facts are essentially identical, but the results are diametrically opposed. Is it because the judges have different views of the law? Is it because the lawyers in one case were not as good as the lawyers in the other? The cases leave plenty of room for speculation. What every business should know, however, is that there are no sure things in ADA litigation, and the regulations are more complicated than you might think*.
About Richard Hunt
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There is nothing the Supreme Court loves more in a discrimination case than a set of shifting burdens of production, persuasion, proof, or whatever other word starting in “p” the Court thinks will describe complicating the analysis of a discrimination case. It proved this recently in Young v. United Parcel Service, a pregnancy discrimination case, but the process goes back to McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Greene, a race discrimination case decided in 1973. The McDonnell Douglas waltz goes like this: plaintiff has to make a preliminary showing of discrimination, the defendant has to show that it had a non-discriminatory reason, and then the plaintiff has to prove the defendant was really motivated by discriminatory feelings. By way of contrast an ordinary lawsuit just puts a single burden on the plaintiff; that is, prove the defendant did something wrong. The McDonnell Douglas waltz guarantees that discrimination litigation will be more complex, time-consuming and expensive than an ordinary lawsuit. More
Just a brief note to let my readers know I will be joining the faculty of the SMU Dedman School of Law as an adjunct (i.e., part-time) professor teaching Disability Law beginning the fall of 2015. I would be very interested in your thoughts on the most important things young lawyers need to know about this field of law. Just email me at the address on the right.
On its face EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, which was recently argued before the Supreme Court, doesn’t have much to do with the ADA and FHA. It has been generally reported as a case concerning religious discrimination, and seems to have little to do with disabilities. Despite this, the Court’s ruling could have a significant impact on how employers and public accommodations handle reasonable accommodation requests. Putting aside the legalese, the question before the Court is whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a reasonable way to deal with those whose religious beliefs, or disabilities are not obvious.
On March 5, 2015 the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in one of the longest running ADA lawsuits around. Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 2015 WL 925586 (9th Cir. Mar. 5, 2015). Like the Home Depot case I wrote about a few weeks ago the issue in Chapman v. Pier 1 concerned obstructions that blocked access and a policy that was supposed to prevent such obstructions. Unlike Home Depot, Chapman v. Pier 1 includes some clear guidelines for businesses that want to make sure they are “walking the walk.”