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Abstract

Congress enacted the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) in order to override four Supreme Court decisions that had narrowly restricted the scope of those protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to provide “a national mandate for the elimination of discrimination.” This Article undertakes an empirical examination of the impact of the ADAA on case outcomes. The recent reported cases provide a unique opportunity for such an examination because, with the ADAAA not retroactively applicable to cases pending prior to its effective date, courts have been simultaneously deciding cases under both the pre-amendment and post-amendment standards. This study examines all reported federal court summary judgment decisions arising under Title I of the ADA for a forty-month period extending from January 1, 2010, to April 30, 2013. The study coded the pre-ADAAA and post-ADAAA decisions for both disability standing determinations and for rulings on whether the plaintiff was qualified for the jo b in question. These preliminary data show that the federal courts are granting employers a significantly smaller proportion of summary judgment rulings under the ADAAA on the basis of a lack of disability status. In addition, the ADAAA decisions exhibit a greater prevalence of rulings on the issue of whether the plaintiff is a qualified individual. On the other hand, the post-amendment decisions show an increased tendency for the courts to find that the plaintiff is not qualified. While the rate of increase in plaintiff victories on the disability issue is outpacing the rate of increase in plaintiff losses on the qualified issue, the latter phenomenon suggests a continuing judicial unease with disability discrimination claims generally and with reasonable accommodation requests more specifically.

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