Vol. LVI No. 4

Accidentally on Purpose: Intent in Disability Discrimination Law

Abstract: American disability discrimination laws contain few intent requirements. Yet courts frequently demand showings of intent in disability discrimination lawsuits. Intent requirements arose almost by accident: through a false statutory analogy; by repetition of obsolete judicial language; and by doctrine developed to avoid a nonexistent conflict with another law. Demanding that section 504 and Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claimants show intent imposes a burden not found in those statutes or their interpretive regulations. This Article provides reasons not to impose intent requirements for liability or monetary relief in section 504 and ADA cases concerning reasonable accommodations. It demonstrates that no intent requirement applies to ADA employment cases, then explains that the same conclusion should apply to cases under the ADA’s state and local government provisions and section 504. It rebuts an analogy to caselaw under Title VI and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act that some courts use to impose intent requirements. It then discusses the reasoning of cases relying on the inappropriate analogy, cases resting on obsolete precedent, and cases refusing to apply remedies to avoid conflicting with federal law. This Article relies on a contextual reading of Supreme Court decisions, the history of the ADA, and policy considerations.

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