Thursday, July 23, 2015

The ADA’s Quarter Century Anniversary is Marked by New Enforcement Initiatives

There’s only a few more sleeps ahead of us before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 25 years old. The law was signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. If you want to take a trip down memory lane, you can find a video of the President’s signing ceremony here. As the ADA’s historic moment approaches, you can also watch for one of the various celebration events going on around the country and track the ADA Legacy Bus as it nears the completion of its year-long celebration and awareness tour.

Since the ADA was enacted, the landmark law has been expanded by the enactment of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which significantly broadened the scope of disabilities protected by the ADA. In addition, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) extended employment discrimination law to applicants’ and employees’ genetic information. Now, as the ADA reaches the quarter century mark, the Obama administration is making clear its continued commitment to enforcing the landmark disability discrimination law. 

A July 20, 2015, Fact Sheet issued by the White House announces a variety of new initiatives in employment, education, and other areas. In the employment area, employers should be aware that one new initiative is a July 23rd Memorandum of Understanding between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) related to the enforcement of the ADA and GINA. Under the ADA and GINA, the EEOC receives and investigates charges of discrimination filed against private employers and state and local government employers. The DOJ is, however, the sole federal entity with the authority to sue state and local governments for ADA and GINA violations. In addition, both the EEOC and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division have the authority to independently initiate ADA and GINA investigations against state and local government employers. Given the EEOC’s and DOJ’s related and sometimes overlapping responsibilities, their new Memorandum of Understanding is aimed at promoting and streamlining information sharing, investigation and litigation coordination, and guidance, outreach, and training activities.

The new Memorandum of Understanding is part of a continued pattern of increased federal agency cooperation and coordination. Earlier this year, the EEOC authored a resource guide called “Recruiting, Hiring, Retaining and Promoting People with Disabilities” as part of a cross-agency initiative. The guide is a helpful resource for all employers – private or public – on their obligations to job applicants with disabilities.

In light of the renewed focus on the ADA and GINA, employers should remain vigilant about their equal employment legal obligations not to discriminate against qualified applicants or employees with disabilities and to grant reasonable accommodations that do not constitute an undue hardship.

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