Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eleventh Circuit: Mental Retardation is Not a Disability Under the ADA

Is this case a parody? No, it's an outrage. The Eleventh Circuit held, in an unpublished per curiam opinion, that an individual with mental retardation did not have a "disability" as defined by the ADA. Not only that, it held that the district court properly granted summary judgment against him on the "disability" issue. Here's a taste of the court's analysis:


The record shows that Littleton is able to read and comprehend and is able to perform various types of jobs. It is apparent that Littleton is somewhat limited in his ability to learn because of his mental retardation. However, he has pointed to no evidence which would create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether he was substantially limited in the major life activity of learning because of his mental retardation.

It is unclear whether thinking, communicating and social interaction are “major life activities” under the ADA. We acknowledge that a review of Littleton’s deposition testimony is not inconsistent with his assertion that he sometimes has difficulty thinking or communicating. Even if thinking and communicating are major life activities, however, Littleton has not shown that he is substantially limited in those activities. As Wal-Mart contends, moreover, the fact that Littleton drives a car might be determined to be inconsistent with his assertion that his abilities to think and learn are substantially limited. Additionally, Littleton’s mother and Agee testified that Littleton is capable of being interviewed for a job without any accommodation, is “very verbal,” and would not need a job coach to communicate effectively with other people in the workforce. This bolsters Wal-Mart’s contention that any difficulty Littleton has with communicating does not appear to be a substantial limitation.
We do not doubt that Littleton has certain limitations because of his mental retardation. In order to qualify as “disabled” under the ADA, however, Littleton has the burden of proving that he actually is, is perceived to be, or has a record of being substantially limited as to “major life activities” under the ADA. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102(2)(A), 12112(a), 12132; see also Hilburn v. Murata Electronics North America, Inc., 181 F.3d 1220, 1227 (11th Cir. 1997). Assuming that thinking, communicating and social interaction are “major life activities” under the ADA, we conclude that Littleton has failed to create a genuine issue of material fact that he is substantially limited in those pursuits. Thus he has failed to assert a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA.

8 Comments:

Blogger Ahistoricality said...

Oh. My. God.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Penny L. Richards said...

Confusing! So, the court recognizes him having a "mental retardation," but they don't see that the label itself comes with the widely-held perception of limits, and widely-practiced discrimination. If he's labeled, that should mean he'd be covered by the ADA.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Sofia Ribeiro said...

How does the court define mental retardation? If this derrogatory label is not suffient in itself to proof disability we need to address how 'being substantially limited as to “major life activities” under the ADA ' is measured? What actually constitute major life activity? How much of a 'mental retardation' does one need to have?

7:15 PM  
Blogger aurora said...

For years people with the label of mental retardation were forcibly institutionalized, sterilized, over-medicated and brutally stripped of their rights as human beings -- and now the ultimate disgrace has occurred with this decision declaring that people with that label aren’t even protected under our nation’s civil rights act for folks with disabilities. Shame on these judges!

7:22 PM  
Blogger Teddi M. Roberts said...

I am confused and concerned about the courts decision. Mental Retardaion is the one most significant disability that has no cure!! As a country we all should be outraged.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Sandee Timmerman said...

I am a Board member with the Mahoning County Brd,of MRDD.
I have 4 adopted mentally retarded children, and someone is saying that is not a disability, come spend 24 hours here and tell me then it is not a disability!!!

1:52 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

As a person who has spent my entire professional life working as an advocate with persons with disabilities, mostly mental retardation, I am appalled at this decision. We work very hard to help people identify and realize their dreams. Clearly, this man has done so, at least in so far as driving and working represent his dreams. It bothers me that the judges don't see communication, socialzation, and learning as "major life activities". Would they be willing to forgo these activities? Communication is central to all that humans do! Perhaps the man so dismissively described by these judges could assist them in learning what "major life activity" means. He clearly has a better grasp of it than they do! It appears that the judges feel that only those persons confined to institutions are covered by the ADA. They have already ruled that if one's disability is substantially corrected by on-going medication, one is not disabled. Of course, if one is unable to obtain the medication because one's job is gone and car repossessed, too bad. There is still no disability because, if one would only take the medication, the disability could be cured! Such circular reasoning!

5:09 PM  
Blogger JeanLynn said...

What?! It is an embarassment that our country even has to have an Americans with Disabilites Act--now we are not even using it to protect or aid people who have disabilities!!

6:06 PM  

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