“Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to a major civil rights bill, expanding protections for people with disabilities and overturning several recent Supreme Court decisions.
“The voice vote in the House, following Senate passage by unanimous consent last week, clears the bill for President Bush.
“The White House said Mr. Bush would sign the bill, just as his father signed the original Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
“The bill expands the definition of disability and makes it easier for workers to prove discrimination. It explicitly rejects the strict standards used by the Supreme Court to determine who is disabled.
“The bill declares that the court went wrong by “eliminating protection for many individuals whom Congress intended to protect” under the 1990 law.
“In an effort to clarify the intent of Congress, the bill says, “The definition of disability in this act shall be construed in favor of broad coverage.”
“Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the principal Republican sponsor in the House, said, “Courts have focused too heavily on whether individuals are covered by the law, rather than on whether discrimination occurred.”
“Lawrence Z. Lorber, a labor law specialist who represents employers, said the bill would change the outcome of “a slew of cases that were thrown out of court in the past.” Now, he said, “employees who have cancer or diabetes or learning disabilities will get their day in court and are more likely to get accommodations from employers.”
“Lawmakers said that people with epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other ailments had been improperly denied protection because their conditions could be controlled by medications or other measures. In a Texas case, for example, a federal judge said a worker with epilepsy was not disabled because he was taking medications that reduced his seizures.
“In deciding whether a person is disabled, the bill says, courts should not consider the effects of “mitigating measures” like prescription drugs, hearing aids and artificial limbs. Moreover, it says, “an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.”