We are often contacted by people who believe their civil rights have been violated and want to file a lawsuit. However, many of these instances do not qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here are some very general guidelines on what civil rights are protected under the ADA. Please note, civil rights cases are oftentimes very complicated and require individual case analysis and assessment. This article provides only general information and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion. You should contact an experienced civil rights attorney with specific questions.
Who Is Protected By The ADA?
The ADA applies to individuals with a disability. The ADA defines a person with a disability as:
[a] person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
The ADA does not list specific disabilities.
What Rights Are Protected Under The ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in all areas of public life, including employment, transportation, education and access to public and private buildings that are open to the public.
What is commonly referred to as the ADA actually consists of five distinct parts:
- Title I – Employment
Title I is focused on equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. It applies to companies that employ 15 or more people, and protects people with physical or mental disabilities from being discriminated against in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment.
Title I of the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship.
Questions of discrimination in these cases often center on “reasonable accommodations,” “known physical or mental limitations” and “undue hardship.”
- Title II – State and Local Government Activities
Title II requires State and local governments, regardless of size, to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services and activities. Generally, this applies to public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts and voting.
State and local governments are required to make reasonable modifications to programs and services in order to meet the needs of their physically and mentally disabled citizens. Additionally, new construction and building alterations should meet specific architectural standards meant to ensure equal access by someone with a disability. However, establishments faced with an ADA accessibility claim are generally not required to take action that would result in undue financial or administrative burden.
- Title III – Public Accommodations
Title III applies to businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations. For example, restaurants, hotels, private schools, homeless shelters and recreational facilities are some of the private entities that are required to comply with Title III of the ADA.
Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment of people with physical or mental disabilities. Additionally, they must meet certain architectural standards for new and modified buildings. Public accommodations such as retail stores must provide people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities effective communication methods.
Again, however, public accommodations are generally not required to take action that would result in undue financial burden or be excessively difficult to implement.
- Title IV – Telecommunications
Title IV of the ADA requires telephone and television companies to provide telecommunications relay services (TRS) for individuals with hearing and speech impediments as well as closed caption broadcasting of public service announcements.
- Title V – Miscellaneous
Title V of the ADA covers miscellaneous provisions that apply generally to application of the ADA. It includes:
The ADA does not invalidate other federal, state or local laws. If another federal, state or local law provides more protections or remedies, the law with the greater protection applies.
Some conditions such as sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, illegal use of drugs are excluded from protection under the ADA. Homosexuality and bisexuality are not protected under the ADA because they are not disabilities.
Retaliation and intimidation are prohibited. This applies to both persons with disabilities and persons without disabilities working on behalf of individuals with disabilities.
An individual cannot make a claim of reverse discrimination under the ADA.
The U.S. Congress is the only branch of the federal government covered by the ADA.
If You Believe Your Civil Rights Have Been Violated, What Are Your Options?
Generally, the first step is to file a claim of discrimination with a federal or state agency. Complaints usually have to be filed within 180 days of the date of discrimination.
- ADA Title I claims may be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state agencies such as the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of discrimination, or 300 days if the charge is filed with a designated State or local fair employment practice agency.
- Individuals must receive a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC before they can file a lawsuit in Federal court.
- ADA Title II complaints may be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) within 180 days of the date of discrimination.
- ADA complaints regarding public transportation should be filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, Office of Civil Rights.
- ADA Title III complaints related to public accommodations may be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Individuals may also file a private lawsuit. Class action lawsuits are often filed in cases alleging violations of public accommodations.
- ADA Title IV complaints regarding telephone or television accessibility should be addressed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The ADA allows the prevailing party, except if the prevailing party is the United States government, to recover reasonable attorney’s fees in court or administrative proceedings.
Parties are also encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution to resolve grievances early on in the process. This includes mediation, arbitration, settlement negotiations and conciliation.
Don’t Forfeit Your Civil Rights Due to a Technicality
The ADA is a powerful and far reaching law that works to protect the civil rights of disabled persons. However, it is also a complicated statute with numerous nuances and exceptions. If you miss a deadline, your grievance may be dismissed on a technicality. If you believe your civil rights have been violated, you should contact a civil rights attorney immediately to discuss your case.