Saturday, April 15, 2006

Maine Supreme Court: No "Substantial Limitation" Requirement in the Maine Human Rights Act

Answering certified questions in Whitney v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the Maine Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the definition of "disability" for purposes of the Maine Human Rights Act does not incorporate the ADA's requirement that the impairment substantially limit a major life activity. In so holding, the court invalidated a Maine Human Rights Commission regulation that did incorporate the substantially-limits requirement. The court found the statute unambiguous:

The definition of "physical or mental disability" in section 4553(7‑A) includes three categories of covered conditions. Under the first category, a person is covered if he or she has "any disability, infirmity, malformation, disfigurement, congenital defect or mental condition caused by bodily injury, accident, disease, birth defect, environmental conditions or illness." Rozanski, 512 A.2d at 340 (quoting 5 M.R.S.A. § 4553(7-A) (1979)). The second category is "the physical or mental condition of a person that constitutes a substantial disability as determined by a physician or, in the case of mental disability, by a psychiatrist or psychologist . . . ." 5 M.R.S. § 4553(7-A). The third category is "any other health or sensory impairment that requires special education, vocational rehabilitation or related services." Id. Although it is possible for an individual to have a condition that meets all three categories, Rozanski [a 1986 case] establishes that meeting all of them is not a prerequisite for coverage. In Rozanski, an asymptomatic back condition was covered because it was a "malformation" of the spine, 512 A.2d at 340, regardless of the "substantial disability" language in section 4553(7-A).
Another example of state courts avoiding some of the problems that have cropped up under the ADA.


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