Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Summer 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Rehabilitation and Counselor Education

First Advisor

Vilia M. Tarvydas

Abstract

The purpose of this research was to examine the patterns and themes of litigation in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) disability discrimination cases charged under the theory of disparate impact. Specifically, this study used Computer Assisted Legal Research (CALR) to identify and review all U.S. Appellate Court ADA disparate impact cases as reported by Westlaw, a commercial electronic case law reporting system owned by Thomson Reuters.

This study used a two-step, mixed methods approach to analyze the data relevant to the research questions and sub-questions. First, the researcher employed content analysis (Hall & Wright, 2008) to identify and characterize patterns and trends of litigation in all reported U.S. Appellate Court ADA cases charged under the theory of disparate impact from 1992 through 2012. Cases were analyzed chronologically, and variables included number of published and unpublished cases, distribution of jurisdiction, distribution of ADA titles, EEOC involvement, case fact patterns, and characteristics of charging and opposing parties. Frequency analyses were conducted on these data. Second, the researcher identified a subset of the ADA disparate impact cases analyzed in the first step: Title I, or employment discrimination cases. Qualitative analysis employing the constant comparative method (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) was used to identify and characterize patterns and themes of the judicial opinions in the Title I disparate impact cases. The researcher developed a framework for analysis based on a review of the literature of the sociopolitical perspective of disability to guide the analysis of the judicial opinions in the subset of disparate impact cases. The results of the frequency analyses conducted on these data revealed four trends: (a) Precedent, (b) Circuit and Judge Effects, (c) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Successes, and (d) Sutton Case Effect. The results of the qualitative analysis of the text of the judicial opinions produced four themes and three relationships among the themes. The four themes were accommodation(s); workplace culture, norms, and policies; judicial process; and policy space. The three relationships were gap-filling, weighing and balancing, and maintaining status quo versus effecting social change. The themes and relationships are depicted in a concept map that visually displays the conceptual framework revealed in the study.

The findings in this study may inform disability and rehabilitation scholars about ADA disparate impact cases, a body of law about which little is known. The patterns and trends identified in ADA Title I disparate impact cases may provide information about the types of policies and practices that are most frequently litigated. Rehabilitation practitioners may be able to use the results of this research to develop education and outreach strategies for employers on best practices for hiring, accommodating, and promoting employees with disabilities. Because the workplace policies and procedures identified in the cases that comprise this study are neutral on their face rather than intentionally discriminatory, employers may benefit from information that assists them in evaluating their policies and procedures proactively, which may avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. Finally, workplace policies and procedures that fairly represent the essential functions of the job and are applied uniformly to workers with and without disabilities will contribute to a more diverse workforce.

Keywords

ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, Appellate Court, Judicial opinions, qualitative analysis, Rehabilitation Counseling

Pages

ix, 213 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 200-213).

Copyright

Copyright 2013 Sara Pfister Johnston

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