Title I of the ADA. Ok ok! I know I have been down this road once, but I got ahead of myself. My previous blog is still valid (awesome even) but it will make much more sense after this blog/vlog. So go I would suggest you look at that one again after you finish this.
So, we already talked about Section 504. Remember, federal executive agencies, any State agency or political subdivision (counties, cities, towns…) or private business that receives federal funds must not discriminate against people with disabilities under Section 504. If 504 covers that then why do we need the ADA? Well, because a whole lot of agencies and private businesses don’t accept federal money, so don’t have to follow Section 504; what about them? The answer is the ADA.
And that brings us back the authority question. According to the 10th Amendment Congress can only pass laws over the things the Constitution gives them specific authority. The Constitution never mentions Deaf people or people with disabilities, so Congress needed to find Constitutional authority that would give it the power to pass a law requiring both States and private businesses not to discriminate against people with disabilities.
In the end they had to go with two; The 14th Amendment for anything relating to “state actors” and the Commerce Clause for private businesses.
This authority is important, but it is much easier to explain the Commerce Clause when we talk about Title III of the ADA. So I will just say that the Commerce Clause is the authority Congress used to pass a law that obligates private businesses not to discriminate against people with disabilities. Specifically, under Title I, not to discriminate against people with disabilities in the area of employment. I will explain how to actually enforce Title I in another vlog. Stay tuned!
The 14th Amendment
The 14th Amendment was proposed to dismantle slavery following the Civil War and so it pronounces a list of Rights. Our discussion will focus on Equal Protection, Due Process and Section 5 or the Enforcement Clause of the 14th Amendment, that enables Congress to pass laws enforcing the Rights listed in the 14th Amendment’s other provisions.
I know it sounds like a cop out but it is much easier to explain the principles of Equal Protection and Due Process when we talk about Title II so I will get deeper into it there, but here is what you need to know, the authority of the 14th Amendment is locked in a death battle with the 11th Amendment.
The 11th Amendment
The idea of the 11th Amendment pre-dates the Constitution. It’s based on an English legal theory called Sovereign Immunity (you can’t sue the king). What the Supreme Court says is that the 11th Amendment makes States immune from suit (because we are the State and so if you sue the State you are really just suing yourself… whatever). However, you can sue the State if State agrees to be sued (happens more often than you think) or the Constitution gives Congress the authority to “abrogate” (step-around) the 11th Amendment.
(If you read the 11th Amendment you will say, “hey! It doesn’t say that!” Well, if you on were the Supreme Court your opinion on that topic may matter… but you’re not, so it doesn’t.)
14th vs 11th
So, the 14th Amendment gives Congress the power to pass laws that obligate the State (meaning Utah, Massachusetts, California…) and its political subdivisions (counties, cities, towns…) to obey civil rights laws, like Title I of the ADA, if (there is always an if), the reason Congress is passing the law is to correct a history of discrimination (it must have already happened… its not to prevent possible future discrimination) and the law Congress passes using the 14th Amendment is the least burdensome means of correcting the history of discrimination (congruence and proportionality).
A few years ago the University of Alabama argued that it was reasonable (rational) to demote an administrative nurse who had returned to work following treatment for breast cancer because it was rational to want a person without a history of cancer (a healthy person misses fewer days at work) in an administrative position. Alabama never really claimed that their position was not discrimination, it claimed that it was not illegal discrimination because Congress did not have the authority to pass Title I of the ADA because could not show a sufficient history of discrimination against people with disabilities by States to warrant abrogation of the 11th Amendment (psst there are pages and pages of examples going State by State in the Congressional record in alphabetical order of discrimination against people with disabilities). Alabama claimed the lack of evidence meant that the ADA lacked congruence and proportionality. The level of discrimination did not warrant the burden the law imposed on the 11th Amendment.
The Supreme Court agreed.
The Court found that Congress lacked the authority to force States (but not counties, cities and towns) to be obligated by Title I so far as making the States pay money (like back pay, compensation or punitive damages) if it discriminated against people with disabilities. Furthermore the Court decided it was rational to want a person without cancer (person without a disability) in the job of administrative nurse.
So Title I, for all real and useful purposes, went away as it applied to State employers.
Section 504 still applies and it gives very similar protections to Title I.
Wait? Why does 504 still apply? Because the AUTHORITY Congress used to pass it is different. If a State employer accepts federal money it agrees to being sued for violating Section 504. See I told you States would actually agree sometimes. THAT is your first taste of why we need BOTH Section 504 and the ADA.
This of course has no impact on Private Companies; they still have to follow the ADA (if… the have 15 or more employees— discussion for another time). Title I applies to private companies because Congress used a different authority to pass the part of Title I that obligates them to follow Title I. As I mentioned, it’s called the Commerce Clause and we will get to that when we discuss Title III. We will get a little deeper into 14th Amendment when talking about Title II.
Title II is next…