Disabilities Discrimination Employment

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Diversity Issue

The legal issue is whether or not “interacting with others” is a major life activity under the ADA.

Legal Analysis/Thoughts

The ADA (Title I) protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the employment context. To be entitled to such protection a person must: (i) be employed by an entity covered by the ADA, (ii) be disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (iii) be otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and (iv) have an adverse employment action taken against her on the basis of her disability. Once an employee has met her prima facie burden, the burden shifts to her employer to show a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer meets this burden, the employee must show that the employee's proffered reason was merely pretextual and that discriminatory animus was at least partially the cause of the adverse employment action. The ADA defines a qualified individual with a disability as one who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of her job. In turn, a disability is (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; or (B) a record of such impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. The EEOC defines “a mental impairment” as “any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, Bi-Polar Disorder II, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities,” for purposes of the ADA. Thus, the question becomes whether this impairment substantially limits a major life activity.

Interacting with others is a major life activity under the ADA

Interacting with others is indisputably an activity of central importance to daily life, and the EEOC has recognized it as a major life activity in its compliance manual. Additionally, interacting with others is considered a major life activity under the Rehabilitation Act, and such recognition under the ADA would serve the legislative purpose of rectifying stereotypes about the mentally disabled. Neither the Supreme Court nor the Second Circuit have addressed the issue of whether interacting with others is a major life activity. The only circuit to have squarely addressed the issue has adopted it as a major life activity, and no circuit has held that interacting with others is not a major life activity. An Appellate Court has de novo review of a lower court's conclusion that the ability to interact with others is a major life activity. In Toyota, the Supreme Court explained that “the term major life activity as used in the ADA, refers to those activities that are of central importance to daily life.” Because major life activity is not defined in the ADA, it should be construed according to its ordinary and natural meaning. The plain meaning of the word “major” denotes an activity that is important and significant, as well as basic. It is an “activity that the average person in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty.” Interact is defined by the dictionary to mean to “act upon one another.” Interacting with others is an important and significant function and “easily falls within the definition of ‘major life activity.'” It is necessary for participation in the workforce. The ability to interact with others depends on the tacit understanding between members of society which form the expectations under which we all operate. The ability to interpret and convey these signals in a way that is recognizable to others is an essential part of human communication. Moreover, in enacting the ADA, Congress implicitly recognized that interacting with others is of central importance, finding that integrating disabled individuals into the general population so that they could fully participate in society constituted a proper goal for the Nation. Congress appreciated that interacting with others is a significant component of human life. It determined that “the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous.”


Interacting with others should be considered as a major life activity as recognized in the EEOC Compliance Manual and Rehabilitation Act and supported by applicable jurisprudence. Moreover, the legislative intent and considerations of public policy behind the ADA warrant that “interacting with others” be considered as a major life activity.



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28 U.S.C. § 1291

28 U.S.C. § 1331

28 U.S.C. § 1367

29 U.S.C. § 706

42 U.S.C. § 3601

42 U.S.C. § 12101

42 U.S.C. § 12102

42 U.S.C. § 12111

42 U.S.C. § 12112

43 P.S. § 951-961

N.Y. Lab. Law § 215 (McKinney 2003)


EEOC Compliance Manual

H.R. REP. 101-485(II)

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Random House College Dictionary 688 (2d ed. 2001)

Susan Stefan, Delusions of Rights: Americans with Psychiatric Disabilities. Employment Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 52 Ala. L. Rev. 271, 272 (Fall 2000) ...

Wendy F. Hensel, Interacting With Others: A Major Life Activity Under the ADA?, 2002 Wis. L. Rev. 1139, 1196 (2002)


4 Jack B. Weinstein & Margaret A. Berger, Weinstein's Federal Evidence § 701.08 (Joseph M. McLaughlin ed., 2 ed. 1999)

8 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure Civil § 2142 (1971)

Hartman, Patrick, A. (2005) “'Interacting with Others' as a Major Life Activity Under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Seton Hall Circuit Review. Vol. 2, pp 139-172


29 C.F.R. § 1630, App

29 C.F.R. § 1630