Supreme Court answers the question of "Can the ADA apply to a recipient of disability?"

Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp.
(No. 97-1008)

Receipt of disability benefits does not automatically prohibit the recipient from pursuing an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim or create a strong presumption against the recipient's ADA success, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. The high court's recent decision in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp (No. 97-1008) resolves the disagreement among federal appeals courts as to the legal effect upon an ADA suit of a plaintiff's application for, or receipt of, social security disability (SSDI) benefits.

In its unanimous ruling, the court found that an ADA plaintiff cannot "simply ignore her SSDI contention that she is too disabled to work." In order to survive a defendant's motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff must explain "why that SSDI contention is consistent with her ADA claim that she could 'perform the essential functions' of her previous job, at least with 'reasonable accommodation,'" the court said.

In many situations, "an SSDI claim and an ADA claim can comfortably exist side by side." [Justice] Breyer explained that "the ADA defines a 'qualified individual' to include a disabled person 'who...can perform the essential functions' of her job 'with reasonable accommodation.'" By contrast, when the Social Security Administration determines diability for SSDI purposes, "it does not take the possibility of 'reasonable accommodation' into account, nor need an applicant refer to the possibility of reasonable accommodation when she applies for SSDI."

[Mental Health Reporter, Vol. 17, No.7, July 1999:p.49]