Vance on Toyota and EEOC Rulemaking Authority
New on Westlaw: Shawn D. Vance, How the Supreme Court's Toyota Decision Impacted the View of EEOC's Regulatory Authority, 26 Berkeley J. Emp. & Lab. L. 475 (2005). From the introduction:
This Article contains an analytical review of two points of major significance involving employment discrimination claims filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1991, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued regulations regarding the ADA, triggering a large debate about their significance. This Article discusses the level of deference that courts should afford these EEOC regulations. In addition, this Article discusses the most recent Supreme Court decision involving the EEOC's regulations regarding the ADA.
While the EEOC was granted authority by Congress to issue regulations to carry out Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC was never granted authority to issue regulations defining or interpreting the term "disability" as listed in the ADA. Despite this fact, the EEOC has issued disability regulations that interpret the ADA with respect to the meaning of the term disability. This action has caused debate over the scope of the regulatory authority granted to the EEOC. Moreover, the Supreme Court has "muddied the waters" in noting that claims under the ADA should be processed consistently with the analytical approach developed in processing claims of discrimination filed under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. However, since the EEOC was not authorized to define the term disability, there has been a great deal of speculation as to the appropriate level of deference to afford any EEOC regulation regarding disability discrimination claims.
In order to more clearly ascertain what Congress intended when it granted the EEOC regulatory authority and how that intention affects the level of deference afforded to the EEOC's regulations, Part I of this Article provides a detailed analysis of the legislative history of the ADA and its implementing regulations. Congress, in enacting the ADA, closely followed a practice utilized during the enactment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is evidenced by the fact that both pieces of legislation use broad language regarding coverage under their respective provisions. In Part II, the Article discusses the historical and political context in which the ADA was created, thereby providing better insight into how the EEOC regulations evolved and how they should be applied. Part III of this Article briefly addresses certain aspects of administrative law dealing with the various levels of deference afforded to the regulations issued by an executive agency interpreting an Act of Congress. While parties have debated these issues since the passage of the ADA, the debate reached a crescendo in 2002.
On January 8, 2002, the Supreme Court issued its most recent decision on this subject in Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams. Part IV of this Article discusses the questions generated by Toyota that continue to confound the legal community and disturb disability advocates. In Toyota, the Court was asked to determine whether a worker at a car manufacturing plant was disabled under the ADA based on certain limitations the employee suffered as a result of a physical impairment. The Court addressed the specific limitations of the employee's major life activities and assessed whether those limitations were substantial. The employee alleged that, among other things, her impairment substantially limited her major life activity of performing manual tasks. The Court concluded that to be substantially limited in performing manual tasks, an individual must have an impairment that prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people's daily lives. This conclusion is inconsistent with the interpretation contained within the EEOC disability regulations. The EEOC had previously determined that a disabled person under the ADA was one who, among other things, suffered from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more of his or her major life activities. Therefore, many have formulated opinions regarding the legal significance of EEOC's regulatory authority based upon the Supreme Court's rationale in Toyota.
There is very little information available regarding the deference afforded to executive agencies and how such deference was considered by the Supreme Court in Toyota. Despite the extensive debate that transpires in the legal community on this issue, there has been little scholarly work addressing the arguments raised in the debate. In an effort to assist those who teach or practice in the area of disability discrimination, this Article argues that the EEOC was never granted regulatory authority to issue regulations defining disability, but that the regulations are still very important for the purpose of assisting courts to determine whether a litigant has a disability covered by the ADA. In fact, as discussed in Part IV of this Article, in their current state, the EEOC regulations regarding the definition of a disability should be granted Skidmore deference. In order to understand this conclusion, one must delve into the legislative history of the ADA to identify what Congress intended when it granted the EEOC regulatory authority over Title I of the ADA. A review of the history points out that Congress rejected a detailed draft of the ADA that specifically defined the sorts of impairments to be covered under the ADA. Congress instead passed a version of the ADA that mirrored previously enacted disability law. Congress chose to allow three different executive agencies to issue regulations that would provide the details necessary to implement the will of Congress regarding the ADA. Unbeknownst to most, this political decision has fueled the entire debate over the application of the EEOC's disability regulations to ADA claims. This Article also responds to critics of the Toyota decision regarding whether the decision is limiting the ability of plaintiffs to prove ADA claims. Finally, Part V of this Article provides future recommendations regarding ADA claims that will assist judges, litigants, and scholars.