Conflicts under the Americans with Disabilities Act
In 1990 Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was designed to prevent discrimination in everyday life against people with disabilities, and to ensure that the disabled have equal access to employment opportunities, public transportation, telecommunications, government services and physical access to buildings. Conflicts have arisen, however, when one person’s disability and the employer’s efforts to accommodate him or her clash with another employee’s disability.
Emily Kysel’s employer allowed her to bring an allergy-detection dog to work because she had a severe allergy to paprika. But controversy was sparked when the dog caused a co-worker, who was allergic to dogs, to suffer asthma attacks. Kysel was told she could no longer bring the dog to work, so she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asserting that the ADA required her employer to allow the dog as a reasonable accommodation for her disability.
In a case like this, one person’s disability should not have priority over another person’s; otherwise, the courts might have to draw up a list of which disabilities are worse than others. A resolution might have been to find an alternative way to eliminate or greatly reduce each employee’s risk of exposure in the workplace, a risk that they already face in daily life.
Conflicts can also arise between the ADA and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. If an employer utilizes health screening to qualify employees for certain jobs in order to reduce possible violations of OSHA and worker’s compensation insurance standards, the practice may violate the ADA’s prohibition against discriminating on the basis of disability. In such instances, however, there may be no reasonable accommodation that the employer could make for a disabled employee without having to eliminate the job entirely.
In a case involving the ADA and the integrity of a sport, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Casey Martin, a disabled PGA golfer who wanted to use a cart during tournaments — a practice not afforded able-bodied golfers. While it is arguable whether the use of a cart impugned the integrity of the sport, it is at least tenable that its use did not enhance Martin’s skills to such an extent that it elevated his play. In fact, Martin did not play enough to permit him to stay on the professional tour.
Many of these conflicts could be resolved if employers and public and private entities worked with the disabled to come to reasonable and mutually acceptable compromises that adhere to the spirit of the ADA and the purpose of a particular employment, while affording disabled individuals the ability to enjoy full participation, independence and self-sufficiency in all areas of life.