Disability Discrimination Law Is a Mess in More Than Ohio
by Michael Fox
Jon Hyman, at Ohio Employer's Law Blog who does a great job of keeping up with developments in the Buckeye state and beyond, has an interesting post about the differences of the definition of disability under the ADA and the Ohio state version. Because of that difference, it's hard not to agree with his conclusion, Disability discrimination law in Ohio is a mess.
While true, it raises the bigger problem with disability discrimination laws at all levels. Unlike race, age, gender, color and national origin which are immutable and known characteristics, whether one is disabled or not, is a legal determination.
Employers must make that determination, and make it correctly at the outset, when faced with dealing with an employee. The fact that it is not always clear cut needs no more evidence than all the cases that have been decided by different courts, often where an appellate court has reversed a district judge. If after full development and briefing, it remains a hard decision for judges, where's the fairness of requiring that employers get it right, or be in violation of the law?
Of course the default position is to treat every possible disability as a disability. While that is a potential solution, is it really effective? And even if it is, is the net gain to society worth the costs that go with it?
The real problem is that in an effort to ensure that people with non-obvious disabilities are protected, as well as those with a condition which no one would dispute is a disability, we have created this rather odd situation, where we toss out a complex legal definition, subject to many variables and interpretations, and require that employers who have hundreds of personnel decisions a week, get it right or else.
It is ironic that we have a much clearer means of identifying who is entitled to utilize parking spaces reserved for the disabled, you either have a government or company issued permit or you don't, than we do making the potentially costly deteremination of whether an individual is disabled under the ADA or one of the state versions.
We are not going to change (the Fox rule of employment law -- Congress does not roll back rights it has given employees) -- but it would be nice if everyone at least realized this unique aspect of this area of law. Particularly as they see how much in the way of judicial and employer resources it is going to consume over the next decade and the ones that follow.