The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Shield Against Genetic Discrimination

The Ninth Circuit recently held that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act (Rehabilitation Act) could be used as tools against genetic discrimination. The case is Chadam v. Palo Alto Unified School District. The court of appeals found that there were sufficient facts to state a claim under Title II and Section 504. The court remanded the case to the district court to be decided on the merits.

Back in February, I wrote a post about this case laying out the facts and legal arguments in the case (a quick review of that post helps put this one in context). In brief, the Chadams’ son had genetic markers for cystic fibrosis, but not the disease itself. This information was disclosed to the school. Due to concerns about their son being an alleged danger to other students, he was removed from the school—in a rather embarrassing fashion—against the family’s wishes. The family sued and in the lower court the school district raised a “direct threat” defense (i.e., they acted to preserve the safe operation of the school and thus did not violate the ADA or Section 504). The district court, among other things, dismissed the Title II and Section 504 claims. The court of appeals, however, found sufficient facts to survive the motion to dismiss but not to support the “direct threat” defense.

In my previous post, I concluded that the Chadam family’s novel legal claims (that genetic discrimination—of they type in this case—was prohibited by the ADA) were persuasive and should prevail. While they have overcome the motion to dismiss, it is now up to the district court to decide the matter on the merits.

I stand by my previous conclusion and hope the Chadams prevail in the lower court. Given the growth and affordability of genetic testing, as well as the fact that the current statute on genetic discrimination—while useful in employment contexts—would not protect people in the Chadam family’s situation, the ADA should be allowed to prevent genetic discrimination. Notwithstanding the ADA’s availability for the Chadam family, the district court might still find that moving the student to a different school was a reasonable accommodation given the alleged danger to the other students. That remains to be determined.

Regardless of the outcome for the Chadam family, the Ninth Circuit’s opinion opens the door for the ADA to be used as a shield against genetic discrimination. This could have a significant impact on anti-discrimination litigation in the future.

 

(photo credit: ©iStock.com)

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Andrew is a 3L at Harvard Law School, where he serves as an Online Content Editor for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and previously served as an Article Editor and Technical Editor on the Harvard Law & Policy Review. Andrew received his B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University in addition to an A.A. in Political Science from Santa Ana College. He has worked at a corporate law firm, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, a district attorney’s office, and a public defender’s office. Prior to pursuing his education, Andrew served in the United States Marine Corps, where he deployed overseas twice. Andrew currently lives in Boston with his wife and two children.

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