The Catholic University of America

Of Counsel - A Bulletin on Legal Issues at CUA - October 1997 Updated Feb. 2009

The Americans with Disabilities Act

An Introduction to the ADA

This bulletin is about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 USC §§ 12101-12213. The ADA is a civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA impacts the university in the areas of employment and student access to programs and activities.

The employment and student access provisions of the ADA have been in effect for both private and public sector universities since 1992. According to the ADA, "No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment" (42 USC § 12112(a)).

In addition to the ADA, as a government contractor and a participant in the federal student aid program, the university is subject to the non-discrimination obligations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 USC §§ 701-796.

This bulletin addresses questions that arise in connection with employment and in the provision of student services, but not the architectural or public accommodation requirements of the law.

Just how broad is the ADA?
"The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities based on thoughtlessness, apathy and stereotypes about disabled persons, as well as invidious animus," according to Judge Saris in a higher education ADA decision. Guckenberger v. Boston University, 974 F. Supp. 106 (D. Mass. 1997).

"The ADA prohibits discrimination …
based on thoughtlessness, apathy and stereotypes …"

The ADA defines disability to mean "(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment" (42 USC §12102(2)).

and job applicants are protected by the ADA from discrimination on the basis of physical and mental disability with regard to recruitment, advertising and job applications, interviewing and pre-employment testing, job assignments and classifications, leaves of absence, training, social and recreational programs, and any other term, condition or privilege of employment. Reasonable accommodations must be provided where necessary to enable the individual to perform the essential functions of the job or to allow the individual to participate in the job application process.

and potential students are protected by the ADA from disability discrimination in all phases of the higher education process, including recruiting, admissions, housing, examinations and course selection, and seating in assembly areas. Reasonable modifications and accommodations are made when necessary in the application process and in the provision of programs and services to students who are otherwise qualified.

links updated 5/29/08 rab

vetted by mlo 2/20/09