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30 Days of ADA Cases

For 30 days leading up to the 30th anniversary of the ADA, the Illinois ADA Project posted one landmark ADA case every day. Now, all of the cases have been collected and turned into a commemorative poster. In light of COVID-19 restrictions, printed versions have been postponed. The poster currently is available to download below in graphic and text-only versions. The hi-res file is suitable for printing and framing. When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the Illinois ADA Project will have a limited number of posters printed and available to pick up for free.

Colorful poster thumbnail showing all 30 days of cases                 Black and white thumbnail of text-only version of the poster

Blue and gray ADA case card with blue house icon

Ligas v. Maram

Citation

2006 WL 644474 (N.D. Ill. March 7, 2006)

Why this case is important

This is first court decision applying the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision to privately-owned institutions. Under the Ligas Consent Decree, over 9,000 people have received community services.

facts

In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. that unjustified institutionalization is discrimination under the ADA. After efforts to implement the Olmstead decision in Illinois were unsuccessful, this case was filed in 2005 on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in large, private, state-funded institutions (Intermediate Care for Facilities for the Developmentally Disabilities or ICF-DDs) as well as thousands of others living at home at risk of institutionalization. The named plaintiffs wanted to receive community services, but the State of Illinois denied their requests.

Ruling

In 2006, a judge certified the case as a class action. Prior to trial, the parties reached an agreement, but at a Fairness Hearing in July 2009, the judge found that the class definition was too broad as it included people who did not desire to live in the community. Accordingly, the judge did not approve the agreement and de-certified the class. In January 2011, the Plaintiffs, the State, and the Intervenors (representing those who wished to remain in the ICF-DDs) reached a new agreement that all could support. The judge held a Fairness Hearing on June 15, 2011 and approved the proposed Consent Decree. This historic agreement reflects momentous change in state policy for serving people with developmental disabilities in the community. Over 9,000 class members have received community services under the Consent Decree through June 2020. In addition to the Ligas case, two other community integration class actions were filed in Illinois on behalf of people with mental illness in private psychiatric nursing facilities (Williams v. Blagojevich) and people with mental illness and physical disabilities in traditional nursing facilities in Cook County (Colbert v. Blagojevich). Consent Decrees were reached in both cases.

Learn More

Read the Consent Decrees and other relevant documents

Read the Ligas Class Certification Decision

Green and gray ada case card with voting box icon

United States and Chicago Board of Elections

Citation

Settlement Agreement (N.D. Ill. 2017)

Why this case is important

This case will ensure that voters with disabilities will be able to physically access Chicago polling places and vote privately and independently.

facts

In 2016, the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) oversaw 1,452 polling sites that housed 2,069 precincts, and also operated 50 additional sites for early voting. In the spring of 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reviewed more than 100 polling places in Chicago and concluded that many have architectural barriers that make them inaccessible to voters who use wheelchairs or have mobility impairments, or voters who are blind or have low vision. In response to DOJ’s initial findings, CBOE expressed its commitment to making all Chicago polling locations accessible to voters with disabilities, and it retained Equip for Equality, the federally funded protection and advocacy system for persons with disabilities in Illinois, to inspect an additional 1,000 Chicago polling sites. In the November 2016 election, Equip for Equality found additional polling sites that were not accessible to voters with disabilities.

Settlement Agreement

On April 17, 2017, DOJ and CBOE entered into a settlement agreement to ensure accessibility of Chicago polling sites to voters with disabilities. The agreement originally required the Board of Elections to ensure that every polling site would be accessible to voters with disabilities by the Nov. 6, 2018 election. (The parties have subsequently extended the deadline to November 2022.) CBOE will provide training to all precinct coordinators on how to install and maintain any temporary equipment and accessibility items, such as wheelchair ramps, accessible parking or the placement of mats over thresholds. On Election Day and during early-voting periods CBOE must maintain in working order all facilities and equipment, including lifts, elevators and ramps, that are needed to make polling sites accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Learn More

Read the Settlement

Read the press release

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Coleman v. Cook County

Citation

2010 WL 725322 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 25, 2010)

Why this case is important

This case demonstrated that people with disabilities are not precluded from enforcing their ADA rights even if they have indicated they are unable to do the job in a different forum.

facts

After Cook County failed to provide reasonable accommodations to allow her to do her job, Plaintiff collected disability benefits under the Illinois Pension Code, which defines disability as “incapacity as the result of which an employee is unable to perform the duties of her position.” She filed suit under the ADA. The County sought to dismiss the case claiming that she was judicially estopped from claiming she was qualified to do the essential functions of the job when she had asserted in her application for pension benefits that she was unable to perform the duties of her position.

Ruling

The court found that the plaintiff should be allowed to pursue her ADA case, despite statements made in her application for pension disability benefits. Plaintiff’s receipt of disability benefits did not bar her ADA claim because the definition of disability under the ADA and the Pension Code were different. Moreover, unlike the ADA, the Pension Code does not factor in the possibility of reasonable accommodations.

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Read the case

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Communities United v. City of Chicago

Citation

Case No. 17-cv-7151 (N.D. Ill. 2017)

Why this case is important

This case ensured that issues relevant to people with disabilities and excessive force by the Chicago Police Department were incorporated into the City of Chicago’s Consent Decree with the State of Illinois.

facts

There is a long and shameful history of excessive force by the Chicago Police Department (CPD), including with respect to people of color and people with disabilities. The Police Accountability Task Force and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) both issued scathing reports about the CPD that, among other things, indicated that CPD does not have the training or vision to ensure safe encounters with people with disabilities. Almost nine months after the DOJ report concluded that a consent decree with an independent monitor was necessary to address the CPD’s entrenched problems, no decree had been issued nor had a monitor been appointed. Although then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference in August 2017 promising to work with then-Illinois Attorney General Madigan to resolve her lawsuit filed against the City of Chicago the same day, that lawsuit failed to address the harm of the City’s practices to people with disabilities. Accordingly, a lawsuit called Communities United v. City of Chicago was filed in October 2017 on behalf of four community-based organizations to ensure that the interests of people with disabilities were included in any Consent Decree negotiated by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois.

Ruling

The filing of the Communities United lawsuit provided the leverage to ensure that the Consent Decree between the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois addressed important issues for people with disabilities. After significant negotiations with the City and the State, it was agreed that the Communities United litigation would be stayed, as long as disability issues were incorporated into the anticipated Consent Decree in the original lawsuit. Subsequently, the City and the State negotiated a proposed Consent Decree. The Communities United coalition was able to review the proposed Consent Decree before it was made public and provided comments, many of which were incorporated into a revised proposed Consent Decree. Thereafter, a revised proposed Consent Decree was open for public comment. Thereafter, the Communities United Coalition submitted comments to the Consent Decree, partnered with others in the disability community to understand and submit comments to the Consent Decree, and testified at the Fairness Hearing. Thereafter, the Judge approved the Consent Decree and implementation began. Because the efforts were successful, the Communities United lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, and the Communities United Coalition continue to monitor implementation of the Consent Decree and advocate that that the interests of people with disabilities are incorporated into that implementation.

Learn More

Read the complaint

Read the press release

Read a summary of Consent Decree between State of Illinois and City of Chicago

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State of Illinois and AMC Theaters

Why this case is important

This case is a good application of the ADA’s requirement that private businesses must provide effective communication to people with disabilities.

facts

People who are blind and people who are deaf consistently faced barriers when seeking to access movies presented by AMC Theatres in Illinois due to lack of captioning and audio description. Accordingly, Equip for Equality filed a Complaint with the Disability Rights Bureau for the Illinois Attorney General on behalf of numerous individuals who are blind and deaf, as well as the Hearing Loss Association of America, the Illinois Association of the Deaf, and the Illinois Council of the Blind.

Settlement Agreement

Following the filing of the Complaint, the Illinois Attorney General reached a settlement with AMC Theatres in 2012. Under the settlement, AMC will provide personal captioning services and audio-description technology for movie-goers with hearing and vision disabilities at all of its theaters and for all of its 460 movie screens across the state. By 2014, all AMC movie theaters will be equipped with captioning services and audio-description devices. Before the agreement, only 21 out of 246 movie theaters in Illinois offered closed-captioning services, and only 10 offered audio-description services.

Learn More

Read the Settlement

Read the Illinois Attorney General Press Release

Orange and gray ADA case card with orange icon of car on top

Access Living v. Uber Technologies

Citation

351 F.Supp.3d 1141 (N.D. Ill. 2018)

Why this case is important

Court extended previous court decisions finding that a “place of public accommodation” does not have to be a physical space to the emerging ride share industry.

facts

People with disabilities who use motorized wheelchairs and Access Living, a non-profit organization that advocates for people with disabilities, brought ADA action against a ride share company alleging access for people who use motorized wheelchairs to services was unequal to access for people who do not use wheelchairs. Uber filed motion to dismiss for lack of standing or, in the alternative, for judgment on the pleadings.

Ruling

The court granted Uber’s motions in part and denied the motions in part. The court held that a “place of public accommodation” does not need to be a physical space and that Uber may be a public accommodation. The court also broadly interpreted the ADA’s obligation to provide “equivalent services.”

Learn More

Read the District Court decision

Read the 7th Circuit decision

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United States and Southern Illinois University

Citation

Settlement Agreement (S.D. Ill. Jan. 2016)

Why this case is important

It is critical that universities provide a consistent application of ADA accommodations for students, ideally through a centralized disability office.

facts

A law student with chronic fatigue syndrome alleged that the Law School at Southern Illinois University (SIU) failed to reasonably modify its attendance policy to accommodate his disability. The denial of the reasonable accommodation was made by an official at the Law School, without consultation with SIU’s Office of Disability Support Services. The law student filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Settlement Agreement

After conducting an investigation, the DOJ concluded that SIU had an inconsistently applied attendance policy, and that it would have been a reasonable modification to modify its attendance policy for the student. After the findings of the investigation, SIU agreed to enter into a Settlement Agreement with DOJ. The terms of the Settlement Agreement include:

  • Transfer of the authority to address and resolve requests for law school student disability-related accommodations and modifications from the  Associate Law School Dean to SIU’s Office of Disability Support Services
  • Mandatory ADA training for Law School faculty and staff for three consecutive years
  • Orientation for incoming law students will include a training from SIU’s Office of Disability Support Services regarding the resources it provides to students with disabilities

Learn More

Read the Settlement

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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sears Roebuck & Co.

Citation

No. 04 C 7282 (N.D. Ill. Consent Decree Entered 2010)

Why this case is important

A federal court approved a $6.2 million settlement, which was the largest monetary amount ever in single EEOC ADA suit. The Consent Decree ended Sears’ practice of automatically terminating workers after they had exhausted workers’ compensation leave without exploring possible reasonable accommodations.

facts

This case arose when an employee who was injured at work went on workers’ compensation leave. When the leave period expired, he sought to return to work with reasonable accommodations, but Sears did not allow him to return to work and terminated him instead. He filed a charge of discrimination under the ADA with the EEOC. Through its investigation, the EEOC learned that hundreds of other workers similarly had been terminated after they had exhausted their workers’ compensation leave. Accordingly, the EEOC filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all employees who had been adversely impacted by Sears’ inflexible leave policy.

Ruling

After extensive litigation, the parties reached a Consent Decree, in which Sears agreed to pay $6.2 million to 235 former employees who had been fired when their leave had expired. In addition to providing monetary relief, the three-year consent decree required Sears to amend its workers’ compensation leave policy, provide written reports to the EEOC detailing its workers’ compensation practices’ compliance with the ADA, train its employees regarding the ADA, and post a notice of the decree at all Sears locations.

Learn More

Read EEOC’s press release

Read EEOC’s press release for a similar case in Chicago against Jewel-Osco

Green and Gray ADA case card with green icon of institution building

Illinois League of Advocates for Developmentally Disabled v. Illinois Dep’t of Human Services

Citation

803 F.3d 872 (7th Cir. 2015)

Why this case is important

Plaintiffs’ attempt to use the ADA to require the State to keep open an institution (“reverse Olmstead” argument) was rejected.

facts

The State of Illinois planned to close a state-operated institution and transition people with developmental and intellectual disabilities into the community. A group of plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of their disabled family members and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the closure, alleging that the State’s initiative would deny them services or benefit.

Ruling

The district court ruled that the closure of the facility was consistent with Title II of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the directives of the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead. The court noted that the State’s plan permitted the option for individuals to move into another institutional setting if community living was unworkable or undesirable. The case was then appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. The Seventh Circuit’s opinion included progressive language about the benefits of community integration, and described Illinois as a “laggard outlier” in the national movement to transition residents out of institutions into community-based settings, while citing the amicus brief of disability organizations.

Learn More

Read the District Court decision

Read the 7th Circuit decision

Read Equip for Equality’s Amicus Brief

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Bilinsky v. American Airlines

Citation

928 F.3d 565 (7th Cir. 2019)

Why this case is important

Although plaintiff lost this case, it is important because the court recognized that in-person attendance is not required for all jobs. Working remotely full-time may be a reasonable accommodation and requires an individualized inquiry. With the rise of telecommuting during COVID-19, future plaintiffs seeking to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation may be able to demonstrate that they can meet the essential functions of the job remotely based on the experience of working at home during the pandemic.

facts

An employee with multiple sclerosis had worked from home for several decades for American Airlines. She was fired from her position after a restructuring of her department expanded her job duties to include in-person involvement.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that the plaintiff was not a qualified individual who was entitled to protection under the ADA. It was no longer a reasonable accommodation for the plaintiff to work from home because the essential functions of her job had changed. Importantly, the court emphasized that its holding was due to the unique facts of this case, and it could be a reasonable accommodation for an employee to telecommute.

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Grooms v. Maram

Citation

563 F. Supp. 2d 840 (N.D. Ill. 2008)

Why this case is important

This case confirms that the ADA’s “integration mandate” includes those who are at risk of institutionalization if the State fails to provide sufficient community services.

facts

The plaintiff has a rare progressive neuromuscular condition and received nursing care in his home from the State of Illinois. However, when he turned 21, he aged out of the Medicaid “waiver” program that the State had invoked to provide him with home services. A State physician had certified that all of the plaintiff’s services were medically necessary and cost neutral to the State, yet, on his 21st birthday, the State reduced the plaintiff’s benefits by more than half, which placed him at risk of institutionalization. He then sued under Title II of the ADA.

Ruling

The court entered a permanent injunction ordering the State to restore the approved level of in-home nursing services. The court found that to provide the plaintiff with the services he had been receiving prior to turning 21 would not constitute a “fundamental alteration” under the ADA.

Learn More

Read the case

Read EFE’s press release

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Miller v. Illinois Department of Transportation

Citation

643 F.3d 190 (7th Cir. 2011)

Why this case is important

This case demonstrates that an employer’s judgment on whether a job function is essential, and therefore is not required to be reassigned as a reasonable accommodation, is not determinative.

facts

Plaintiff, a highway maintainer on a bridge crew, alleged that his employer discriminatorily refused his request not to work at high heights in exposed positions as a reasonable accommodation for his acrophobia. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling and allowed plaintiff’s case to proceed. The court rejected the employer’s argument that working at high heights was an essential function that the employer was not required to reassign to other employees. The court found that before plaintiff was diagnosed, the employer had informally provided the requested accommodation by allowing other crew members to perform non-essential tasks when plaintiff could not do so. Further, other crew members were often accommodated and excused from other duties. These past “accommodations” undercut the employer’s argument that the plaintiff’s request was unreasonable.

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Andrews v. Rauner

Citation

2018 WL 3748401 (C.D. Ill. Aug. 6, 2018)

Why this case is important

Excessive use of solitary confinement that results in a denial of mental health treatment and lack of access to prison services can give rise to a claim under the ADA.

facts

Woman with mental illness engaged in acts of self-harm. She was placed in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, rather than being provided with mental health treatment and opportunities for socialization, as recommended by mental health professionals. She later filed suit against the Illinois Department of Corrections. Her case included a claim under the ADA alleging that IDOC failed to reasonably accommodate her disability by failing to provide her access to inpatient intensive psychiatric treatment. She argued that IDOC allows prisoners with physical injuries or illness to receive outside hospitalization but failed to do so for her mental disability. IDOC filed a motion to dismiss claiming the ADA did not apply.

Ruling

The court denied IDOC’s motion to dismiss. First, the court held that plaintiff’s allegations of inadequate treatment for mental health conditions when compared to IDOC’s treatment of people with physical disabilities and other illnesses gave rise to viable claim under the ADA. Second, the court found that IDOC violated Title II’s requirement of program access because plaintiff was denied access to activities provided by IDOC (education, programming, recreation, exercise, mental health treatment) due to disability and segregation status.

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Stragapede v. City of Evanston

Citation

865 F.3d 861 (7th Cir. 2017)

Why this case is important

To succeed on a claim that an employee is direct threat to the health and safety of himself or others, an employer must rely upon medical or other objective evidence. Subjective beliefs are insufficient.

facts

Biagio Stragapede, an employee of the City of Evanston’s water services department, acquired a traumatic brain injury and took leave from work. Stragapede was examined for fitness for duty by the city’s neurologist, who noted he had “mild residual cognitive deficits,” but cleared his return to work. Shortly thereafter, the City alleged Stragapede had performance issues, such as problems changing water meters, logging into his computer, reporting to wrong locations, and driving through an intersection while looking down. The City reported its concerns to the neurologist, who concluded that these events were likely caused by Stragapede’s brain injury. The neurologist drafted a letter saying Stragapede was a direct threat to the health and safety of himself or others. The letter asserted Stragapede could not safely perform the essential functions of his job. The City of Evanston fired Stragapede, who then filed an ADA lawsuit. At trial, the jury found for Stragapede and awarded him over $575,000. The City appealed and argued that it honestly believed that Stragapede posed a direct threat to himself and others, so it should not be liable

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit found for Stragapede and affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court noted that the direct threat defense requires “medical or other objective evidence,” but the City’s subjective belief about Stragapede’s risk was insufficient. The court found that the jury could have rationally found the doctor’s opinion to be unreasonable because the doctor only had one-sided information and months before had cleared Stragapede’s return. Additionally, Stragapede was able to explain some issues of concern, and other issues relied upon by the City weren’t safety issues and were therefore, irrelevant for a direct threat defense.

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United States and the YMCA of Metro Chicago

Citation

Settlement Agreement (N.D. Ill. 2016)

Why this case is important

Organizations that serve kids with disabilities may be required to administer emergency medication as a reasonable modification under the ADA.

facts

Parents filed a complaint with the United States Department of Justice on behalf of their nine-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes. She participated in the YMCA’s swim team and requested that staff receive training on the administration of glucagon, a potentially life-saving medication administered if the daughter experienced severe hypoglycemia, but the YMCA refused.

Settlement Agreement

After an investigation by the Department of Justice concluded that the YMCA’s actions violated the ADA, YMCA agreed to resolve this dispute by adopting a diabetes management policy and providing training to its employees. In addition to this agreement, in 2016, there were three other agreements with YMCAs across the country on issues related to the inclusion of kids with diabetes.

Learn More

Read the Settlement

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Reed v. State of Illinois

Citation

808 F.3d 1103 (7th Cir. 2015)

Why this case is important

Courts have a legal obligation to provide accommodations to people with disabilities to ensure a full and fair opportunity to vindicate their claims.

facts

The plaintiff had a rare neurological disorder called tardive dyskinesia, which caused her to become mute, scream, or make involuntary movements, particularly when under stress. She also had PTSD and bipolar disorder, which caused her severe anxiety. She filed a personal injury case in state court and made a number of requests for reasonable accommodations from the court’s disability coordinator. Some of these requests were approved (a friend/family member could take notes; podium; occasional recesses), and others were denied (microphone; interpreter; jury instruction explaining her disability). During the trial, the presiding judge expressed annoyance with the plaintiff by telling her to hurry up and glaring at her and, ultimately, the jury found for the defendant. The plaintiff moved for a new trial due to the inadequate accommodations, which the court denied. In so doing, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for oral argument on her motion for a new trial because her severe speech impediment prevented her from communicating, while also concluding that her impediment was accommodated during the trial. The plaintiff then filed a federal case under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, which was dismissed under the principle of collateral estoppel after the trial court found that the case had already been decided.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court. It held that it was unfair to deprive a litigant of an adequate day in court due to a disability that impeded effective litigation, as well as unfair for the state court judge to simultaneously adjudge her as “incompetent to make an oral presentation” and that accommodations were adequate. The court cited the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Lane to emphasize the history of unequal treatment in justice system for people with disabilities. It further concluded that: “For one court (state court) to deny accommodations without which a disabled plaintiff has no chance of prevailing in her trial, and for another court (federal district court) on the basis of that rejection to refuse to provide a remedy for discrimination that she experienced in her first trial, is to deny the plaintiff a full and fair opportunity to vindicate her claims.”

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Brown v. Smith

Citation

827 F.3d 609 (7th Cir. 2016)

Why this case is important

This case made clear that a job description is not the sole factor to determine whether a job function is essential.

facts

The plaintiff was fired from his position of street supervisor because he was unable to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) due to his insulin-dependent diabetes. The question before the court was whether having a CDL was an essential function of the street supervisor position.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict and judgment for the plaintiff. Although the job description stated that the position required a CDL, the court credited the plaintiff’s testimony that he had worked in the position for four years without ever needing to drive. The court also emphasized that many other employees were available to drive, if necessary, noting that replacement drivers could be secured within 10 minutes, allowing supervisors to focus on their other duties.

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Scherr v. Marriott International, Inc.

Citation

703 F. 3d 1069 (7th Cir. 2013)

Why this case is important

The deadline to bring an ADA suit (statute of limitations) does not apply when there is a continuing violation of the ADA, such as an ongoing inaccessible feature in a hotel.

facts

Marjorie Scherr, an elderly woman who required the use of a walker, booked a room at a Marriot hotel. The hotel had recently undergone a renovation and had installed spring-hinged door closers on the bathroom doors of some of its rooms, including the ADA-compliant room assigned to Scherr. The spring hinge closes the door automatically when a person lets go of the door. While attempting to exit the bathroom in her hotel room, the door, which she had pushed open and then released to use her walker, quickly slammed shut on her, striking her and knocking her down. As a result, she underwent surgery for a broken wrist and an injured hip. She brought a personal injury action against the hotel, which settled in December 2010. Just prior to that settlement, she brought a suit under Title III of the ADA against the hotel and 56 Marriot hotels for using spring-hinged door closers that resulted in her injury. The trial court allowed the plaintiff to bring a lawsuit regarding an allegedly inaccessible door in a Marriott bathroom even though the plaintiff filed suit after the statute of limitations period had passed.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff alleged violations that were continuing because the door that injured her remained in existence, and thus, her claim was not barred, even though she filed outside of Illinois’s two year statute of limitations period. The Seventh Circuit also found that the plaintiff had standing to sue the hotel because she demonstrated that she would use hotel in the future, if the inaccessible door design were remedied. However, she did not have standing to sue the 56 other hotels with similar design. She did not provide evidence that she had intentions to use any of the other Marriot hotels with the inaccessible door design.

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Wright v. Illinois Department of Children & Family Services

Citation

798 F.3d 513 (7th Cir. 2015)

Why this case is important

This case helped clarify the standard as to when an employer can order an employee to undergo a Fitness for Duty examination.

facts

The plaintiff worked as a caseworker, and the employer claimed that her supervisor and administrator were concerned about certain behaviors, including her long-standing history of failing to follow orders. A doctor questioned the caseworker’s ability to work with children and noted that “her mental health needs to be assessed.” The employer ordered the caseworker to undergo a Fitness for Duty (FFD) exam, but the caseworker refused on various occasions. This case was presented to a jury, and the jury concluded that the FFD was not legally permissible under the ADA, as it was not job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Ruling

After the district court denied the employer’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, this case was appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision for the plaintiff. The Seventh Circuit outlined the law surrounding medical exams and inquiries. It explained that medical exams of current employees must be “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” and that all employees, regardless of whether they have a qualifying disability under the ADA, are protected by the ADA’s restrictions on medical exams and inquiries. It noted that an employer must have a reasonable basis based on objective evidence that a medical condition will impair the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions or that the employee will pose a threat due to a medical condition. Finally, it explained that the employer bears the burden of establishing business necessity, and that this burden is “quite high.” In this case, the Seventh Circuit found support for the jury’s decision in the fact that this case was inconsistent with the employer’s usual practice. When an FFD was pending, the employer typically placed that employee on desk duty. Here the plaintiff continued to oversee her normal caseload for almost two months. Given the inconsistent application of the employer’s own policy, the Seventh Circuit held that the employer likely had no real concern about safety.

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Doe v. Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co.

Citation

179 F.3d 557 (7th Cir. 1999)

Why this case is important

This case makes clear that Title III’s “place of public accommodation” language is not limited to physical places, and would cover inaccessible websites.

facts

Two men, who were HIV positive, challenged insurance policy caps on lifetime benefits for AIDS-related conditions (one policy capped benefits at $25,000 and another at $100,000) as discriminatory under the ADA because the policies had a significantly higher cap ($1,000,000) for all other medical conditions. They argued the insurance company is a public accommodation under Title III of the ADA, and its caps on AIDS-related benefits violated Title III. The district court found Plaintiffs adequately stated a claim that the AIDS caps constituted discrimination in violation of Title III of the ADA.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed finding that the ADA does not apply to the content of insurance policies. However, the decision has been important because it made clear that Title III’s “place of public accommodation” language is not limited to physical places. The Seventh Circuit stated: “The core meaning of [Title III’s nondiscrimination provision, 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a)], plainly enough, is that the owner or operator of a store, hotel, restaurant, dentist’s office, travel agency, theater, Web site, or other facility (whether in physical space or in electronic space) that is open to the public cannot exclude disabled persons . . .” As a result, this case is often cited in support of the argument that the Internet is a place of public accommodation, despite not being a physical place.

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Holmes v. Godinez

Citation

311 F.R.D. 177 (N.D. Ill. 2015)

Why this case is important

After the court denied the Illinois Department of Correction’s efforts to dismiss the case, a comprehensive settlement was reached that will provide deaf and hard of hearing prisoners with effective communication and meaningful access to prison programs.

facts

Plaintiffs are a group of deaf and hard of hearing people incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). They brought a class action alleging that IDOC systematically failed to provide ASL interpreters and other forms of communication, thus denying them meaningful access to healthcare, religious services, educational programs, and pre-release programs. IDOC opposed class certification, sought to exclude one of plaintiffs’ experts and argued the case should be dismissed as a matter of law.

Ruling

In a comprehensive opinion, the court certified the case as a class action. The court also denied the IDOC’s motion for summary judgment, and held that there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial with the class’s claims. Finally, the judge denied the IDOC’s motion to exclude one of plaintiffs’ experts. Thereafter the case settled. The settlement revised IDOC’s process for identifying deaf and hard of hearing inmates, as well as assessing their communication-related needs. Under the agreement, IDOC will provide enhanced screening to identify which prisons are deaf or hard of hearing, provide hearing aids when recommended by an audiologist, provide sign language interpreters for prisoners who communicate in ASL, ensure every Illinois prison with a deaf or hard of hearing prisoner has at least one video phone, two TTYs, two amplified telephones, and establish a safe way to provide accessible notifications about emergencies, evacuations, meals, showers, yard time, doctor and counselor appointments, and visitors to deaf or hard of hearing prisoners.

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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. United Airlines

Citation

693 F.3d 760 (7th Cir. 2012)

Why this case is important

The ADA’s reasonable accommodation provisions mandate that an employer place employees with disabilities into vacant positions for which they are qualified, provided that such accommodation would be ordinarily reasonable and would not present an undue hardship to the employer. Allowing someone to simply “compete” for a position is not a reasonable accommodation.

facts

United Airlines had a reasonable accommodation policy which stated that an employee could be transferred as a reasonable accommodation, but that the transfer process remained competitive. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued, claiming that the ADA requires employers to transfer employees with disabilities who can no longer do their current job to a vacant position for which they are qualified.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit held that the ADA does indeed mandate that an employer reassign employees with disabilities to vacant positions for which they are qualified, provided that such accommodations would be ordinarily reasonable and would not present an undue hardship to that employer. As a result, no longer can employers just allow employees with disabilities to “compete” for the position, as under previous precedent. The Seventh Circuit stated that a change of precedent was warranted given the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (2002), which held that accommodation through appointment to a vacant position is reasonable. Absent a showing of undue hardship, an employer must implement such a reassignment policy.

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Valencia v. City of Springfield

Citation

883 F.3d 959 (7th Cir. 2018)

Why this case is important

This case demonstrates that municipalities with zoning laws that limit housing options for people with disabilities must make reasonable accommodations to provide equal opportunities for community living.

facts

The City of Springfield defines a “family care residence” as a home occupied by a group of no more than six unrelated persons with disabilities. City zoning codes restrict “family care residences” from being located within 600 feet of another such facility. A non-profit that provides residential services to adults with disabilities established a Community Integrated Living Arrangement (“CILA”).The CILA qualified as a “family care residence” as defined by Springfield. Two years after opening, a complaint was filed when it was discovered that another “family care residence” was located within 600 feet. In response, the provider tried various methods of approval and exception, which were all denied by the City. The provider filed suit under the ADA, the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act, alleging the City discriminated against the residents on the basis of their disabilities. The district court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction to prevent the City from evicting the residents during the pendency of the case, finding the residents had a reasonable likelihood of success under both a disparate treatment and reasonable accommodation theory.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision. It analyzed the issue under a reasonable accommodation theory and found that because suitable group homes are in short supply, exceptions are necessary for equal opportunity. The Court also emphasized that the City had no record of enforcing the prohibition against unrelated, non-disabled adults living in the same home.

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Branham v. Snow

Citation

392 F.3d 896 (7th Cir. 2004)

Why this case is important

This case sets forth the required analysis when an employer excludes a person with a disability from the workplace under a direct threat theory.

facts

Applicant with Type 1 Insulin Dependent Diabetes was denied a job. The employer argued the applicant should be excluded because his diabetes was a direct threat to the health and safety of others and therefore, he was not qualified.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the four factors required in a direct threat analysis: 1) the duration of the risk; 2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; 3) the likelihood that potential harm will occur; and 4) the imminence of potential harm, and found there were sufficient issues of fact to allow the plaintiff to proceed with his case to trial. The court also confirmed it is the employer’s burden to prove direct threat.

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DeWitt v. Proctor Hospital

Citation

517 F.3d 944 (7th Cir. 2008)

Why this case is important

Court rules that people who associate with people with disabilities (such as family members) cannot be discriminated against because of that association.

facts

An employee alleged that her employer fired her to avoid having to continue to pay for the substantial medical costs that were being incurred by her husband’s cancer treatments under the employer’s self-insured health insurance plan. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that because the plaintiff established that “association discrimination” may have motivated the employer in its decision to fire her, a jury should be allowed to consider her claim. Specifically, the court relied on the fact that the employer indicated it was reviewing the unusually high costs of her husband’s medical expenses at the same time the employer was identifying ways to cut health care costs. Also, the employer asked the plaintiff if her husband had considered hospice care instead of the more expensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments her husband was receiving.

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Thomas v. Kohl’s Corp.

Citation

2018 WL 704691 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 5, 2018)

Why this case is important

Under the ADA, retail stores must remove barriers for people with mobility disabilities if the barrier removal is readily achievable. This allows people with disabilities to shop independently.

facts

Plaintiff Patricia Thomas lives with the progressive effects of Multiple Sclerosis that limits her ability to walk and stand. She uses a walker or a scooter. She brought an ADA lawsuit against Kohl’s alleging she could not access certain merchandise independently due to a narrow path caused by obstruction from a moveable display.

Ruling

The district court found for Thomas and denied Kohl’s motion for summary judgment. Kohl’s had argued that the ADA did not apply because there are no express spacing requirements for moveable display racks. However, the court found that the spacing of moveable display racks is governed by the “readily achievable” standard of the ADA. The court noted evidence that those changes would be readily achievable; additional inches around displays would not result in a significant loss of selling or serving space, and enhancing employee training would have minimal impact on overall operations and resources of the store. The court also rejected Kohl’s “customer service defense” as an alternative.

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Karraker v. Rent-A-Center

Citation

411 F.3d 831 (7th Cir. 2005)

Why this case is important

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the use of a personality test as a job screening tool violated the ADA because it is an impermissible medical examination.

facts

A group of current and former employees challenged an employer’s policy requiring employees seeking management positions to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (“MMPI”). They alleged that the MMPI can identify mental health conditions and therefore violates the ADA. The trial court held that the test did not violate the ADA because it was used for “vocational” purposes to predict future job performance and compatibility.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The court held that the MMPI is designed to diagnose mental illness, and thus, is a medical examination subject to the ADA’s restrictions on medical exams and inquiries. The court further explained that the test tended to screen out people with mental illness, and it was irrelevant that the test was graded on a vocational scale, as opposed to a medical scale. The court also held that to have standing to challenge a medical examination a plaintiff is not required to be a person with a disability.

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Gogos v. AMS Mechanical Systems

Citation

737 F.3d 1170 (7th Cir. 2013)

Why this case is important

This is one of the first appellate court cases in the country interpreting the definition of disability after passage of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA).

facts

The plaintiff, an individual with high blood pressure, was terminated from his position. He filed suit under the ADA. The employer argued his case should be dismissed because he didn’t have a disability under the ADA. The district court granted summary judgment for the employer.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. Specifically, the Seventh Circuit held: 1) Even if the plaintiff’s blood pressure spike and vision loss were episodic, the ADAAA made clear that episodic conditions are covered by the ADA; 2) Short-term disabilities can be covered by the ADA; 3)The plaintiff’s blood pressure spike and intermittent blindness could substantially limit two of his major bodily functions: eyesight and circulatory function; and 4) Courts must disregard the positive effects of medication and other mitigating measures when determining whether an individual has a disability under the ADA.

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Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago v. Chicago Transit Authority

Citation

2001 WL 492473 (N.D. Ill. May 9, 2001)

Why this case is important

The ruling allowed major ADA case against the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to proceed leading to systematic improvements to the CTA’s buses and trains for riders with disabilities.

facts

ADA lawsuit brought on behalf of nine individuals with disabilities (seven with mobility disabilities, one who is blind, and one who is deaf) and on behalf of Access Living, the Center for Independent Living in Chicago, for CTA’s failure to ensure that features on CTA buses and trains that were designated as accessible, were in fact accessible. The CTA filed a motion for summary judgment claiming it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Ruling

The Judge denied CTA’s motion finding that the plaintiffs had presented more than sufficient evidence to rebut each of defendant’s arguments. Specifically, the court found that 1) Access Living was a proper organizational plaintiff; 2) the ADA statute of limitations was two years; 3) plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence that the CTA was deliberately indifferent to the ADA rights of riders with disabilities; and 4) plaintiffs have provided sufficient evidence that they are entitled to affirmative injunctive relief. Shortly after the court’s ruling a comprehensive settlement was reached. (See below for the link to the settlement agreement.)

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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. AIC Security Investigations, Ltd.

Citation

55 F3d 1276 (7th Cir. 1995)

Why this case is important

This is the first ADA case that went to trial and jury’s award of damages upheld by appellate court.

facts

Employee with terminal cancer sued his Chicago-based employer claiming that he was terminated because of his cancer. Following the first ADA trial in the country, the jury found in favor of the EEOC and the discharged employee, and awarded him $572,000 in compensatory damages, back pay and punitive damages. The District court upheld the jury’s award of back pay ($22,000) and compensatory damages ($50,000), but reduced the jury’s award of punitive damages to $150,000 due to the statutory cap. The employer appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ruling

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the jury’s finding for the discharged employee and the court’s decision on damages. The court also held that the award of compensatory and punitive damages was not grossly excessive.

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Last updated: September 30, 2020

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