Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) has been heralded for restoring the protected class of individuals with disabilities to the broad scope that Congress intended when it enacted the original Americans with Disabilities Act over two decades ago. But the ADAAA accomplished something even more profound. By restricting the accommodation mandate only to individuals whose impairments are or have been substantially limiting, and by expanding basic antidiscrimination protection to cover individuals with nearly all forms of physical or mental impairment, the ADAAA extricated disability from the broader concept of impairment and implicitly bestowed upon impairment the status of an independent protected class under federal antidiscrimination law. The ADAAA's effective elevation of impairment to protected class status demands a deeper understanding of the ways in which impairment discrimination - as distinct from disability discrimination - manifests itself in the workplace. This Article explores one aspect of that larger inquiry by analyzing whether impairment discrimination encompasses employment decisionmaking based on the symptoms of an impairment or on the mitigating measures that one uses for an impairment. This Article demonstrates that understanding symptom-based and mitigation-based decisionmaking as a form of impairment discrimination is not only consistent with the statutory language and legislative intent, but also accurately reflects the social, medical, and practical reality of what it means to be "impaired."