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Mainers with disabilities will likely benefit from new EEOC regulations

On March 24, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finalized new regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congress revamped the ADA in 2008. The president signed the revamped version into law in January 2009. The EEOC’s new regulations provide guidance to employers, employees, and courts on how to interpret certain portions of the new ADA.

Before Congress revamped the ADA, employers had successfully convinced the courts to interpret the ADA in a very restrictive way. Under this restrictive interpretation of the ADA, employers could discriminate against employees because they had conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and bipolar disorder. The courts allowed these employers to discriminate against employees suffering from conditions like these under the rationale that these conditions were not disabilities under the ADA. For instance, courts held that some people with bipolar disorder did not have a disability because medication controlled their symptoms. Accordingly, courts permitted employers to fire someone merely because he had bipolar disorder that was controlled by medication.

Under the revamped ADA and the new regulations, people who seem to intuitively fit the definition of a person with a disability will now receive protection from discrimination that they did not enjoy under the old ADA. For instance, under the new regulations, there is a list of conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and bipolar disorder which should “easily” meet the new definition of disability.

The Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) also prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. The MHRA is similar to the ADA in some respects but also different in some respects. If an employer has discriminated against you because of a health condition, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn about your rights under both the ADA and MHRA.

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