Legal Words of Wisdom: The ADA Will Be More Cancer Survivor Friendly

Rodney Warner, Esq
Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Inc.
Last Modified: October 7, 2005

Starting next year, disabled employees will be better protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President Bush signed a bill amending the ADA last month. The ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled employees whose employers have 15 or more employees.

The bill criticizes the Supreme Court for narrowly interpreting the law, when it should’ve been interpreted broadly to protect more disabled employees.

As the ADA is currently interpreted, disabled employees walk a very fine line between being too disabled to work (and not being protected by the ADA) and not being disabled enough to be considered “disabled” under the law. The new language broadens that fine line and should open the door to more successful claims by employees.

One new provision is especially applicable to those dealing with cancer. Under the new language, when a judge or jury is determining if a plaintiff is disabled, they should consider how a disease would impact the plaintiff if the disease was active, whether or not the disease is in remission. This opens a very big door for those in remission, who might normally be asymptomatic and fully functional. Under the current wording of the ADA, there’s a good chance that a person in remission would not be protected. Under the new language, it opens the door to argue a person’s disability should be judged on how impaired a person would be with a fully active (and arguably untreated) case of cancer, as opposed to how the person functions during remission.

Time will tell how helpful these amendments will be, which will take effect January 2009. It could be years before there’s any definitive interpretation of the new language from the Supreme Court. Whatever happens in the future, the Congress has made it clear it’s unhappy about how the ADA has been interpreted in the past.

Rodney Warner is a staff attorney at the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Inc., a non-profit law firm that provides free legal services to the physically disabled in Philadelphia and the surrounding Pennsylvania counties. Rodney is a cancer survivor and his position is funded by a grant from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The clinic’s website is This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Please speak with an attorney for legal advice.


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