Nine months after the federal Americans with Disabilities Act took effect, attorneys are still unsure how the law will be applied, a Baltimore lawyer told Carroll County business people yesterday.
"No cases have gone to the appellate courts, so there is no hard guidance," Jay Fries, a management attorney with Krutchko and Fries in Baltimore said at the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce's monthly breakfast.
Of the 7,129 charges of discrimination filed nationwide since July 26 -- more than 1,100 in February and March -- only one has gone to court, Mr. Fries said.
In that case, a Chicago security firm was fined $227,000 for firing an executive who had been diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumor.
The company's owner was fined an additional $250,000.
"The government wanted to try to send a message about what happens when you discriminate against people with disabilities, and they chose a good vehicle," Mr. Fries said.
Firing employees after they have been diagnosed with disabilities constitutes 46 percent of the charges filed since July, Mr. Fries said.
The second-highest number of cases have claimed employers failed to accommodate employees after they became disabled, and refusing to hire a disabled person is in third place, he said.
"You have to reasonably accommodate a disabled person if, with reasonable accommodations, he could perform the essential functions of the job," Mr. Fries said.
Essential functions should be defined in a job description before the hiring process begins, because "it will be assumed that what you have listed are the essential functions of the job," Mr. Fries said.
However, the courts have not defined reasonable accommodation. Nor have they determined how a company should handle potential health insurance problems, such as if an insurer refuses to cover someone because of a prior disability.
"Does the company have to provide full insurance coverage?" Mr. Fries asked. "These are all issues for the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] to decide."