ADA and Public Employers

I received a sample issue of Benefits & Compensation Law Alert which contains a statement that "Some of you may be aware that the US Supreme Court has held that the ADA doesn't apply to state employers."

I missed that ruling. Can someone provide details?
We are a public employer with over 50 employees.



  • 3 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Thank you for your question. This is a somewhat complicated issue. The United States Supreme Court has ruled in Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, that states have sovereign immunity against suits in federal court under the ADA.

    In a narrow 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the ADA did not nullify states' "sovereign immunity" under the Eleventh Amendment (which prevents private citizens from filing suit against states in the federal courts). While Congress has the power to lift states' immunity in limited circumstances, the Supreme Court ruled that the ADA exceeds that authority.

    This ruling follows several other recent opinions by the Supreme Court supporting states' rights, including a decision last year barring state employees from suing under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. (Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett). The Supreme Court will be deciding the FMLA status soon, hopefully this term. Stay tuned to Benefits and Compensation Law Alert to learn about that case.

    What this means is that state employees cannot sue you in federal court alleging that you violated the ADA. However, they could possibly bring a suit in state court, or a state human rights agency, based on your state's laws. Also, states are not exempt from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a precurser to the ADA.

    I am interested to hear how public employers have reacted to these important rulings, as well as to the FMLA.

    Anne Williams
    Attorney Editor
    M. Lee Smith Publishers, LLC
  • Thanks for the information. We'll stay alert for developments.

  • Be careful with this if you are a public employer.

    First, most states have laws that mirror (or exceed) the ADA and those law state laws most likely will apply to you.

    Second, you must actually be a State or Arm of the State to have this 11th Amendment immunity. Lots of public employers (like cities or counties) are NOT arms of the state. There is a four or five part legal test (depending on your jurisdiction) to decide whether you are actually the STATE or the ARM of The STATE (having to do with things like funding and who makes the decisions).

    Good Luck!
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