Recent Changes Relating to the ADA
By Greg Bell J.D., SOCR Policy and Outreach
There have been some major developments in the ADA arena, and I would like
to share them with you. On May 4, 2007, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation
providing a new definition of "disability" under Washington
On July 6, 2006, in the case of McClarty v. Totem Electric, the Washington
Supreme Court was asked to choose between different definitions of "disability" that
had been developed over the years by courts and the Washington Human Rights
Commission. Rather than picking one of those definitions, however, the court
instead adopted the definition provided by the federal Americans with Disabilities
Act in order "[t]o provide a single definition of ‘disability’ that
can be applied consistently throughout" the Washington Law against
Discrimination" (RCW 49.60). The court made its ruling without the
benefit of legal briefs, comments or any other documentation that might
have informed the court of the detrimental impact its decision would have
on thousands of state residents. The state’s definition of disability
had been in place for over thirty years, with no great groundswell of opposition
approaching the legislature to request a change. The legislature considered
the issue in the 1990s and saw no reason to change the definition. When
the state Supreme Court opted for the more restrictive federal definition,
thousands of Washington residents lost state ADA coverage.
This year, the state Legislature explicitly rejected the Supreme Court’s
choice in McClarty, and instead adopted its own detailed definition of disability.
The result is a definition that is much broader than the federal ADA definition,
and that more closely represents the will of the state. Forty-six out of
forty-eight State Senators voted in favor of the new definition; sixty-two
of the ninety-seven House members voted in favor as well.
At the signing ceremony, State Sen. Adam Kline stated, " Washington
has prided itself on having a broad definition of disability, one based
on compassion. Discrimination marginalizes so many people, and the personal
toll it takes on our people is unworthy of our state." The governor
added her comments as she signed the bill before a roomful of disability
Gambini Ruling Clarifies Rights of People with Disabilities
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in Gambini v. Total Renal
Care, Inc., Case No. 05-35209 (9th Cir., March 8, 2007), that if an employee
has an outburst and that the outburst is associated with a known disability,
then the outburst must be treated as part of the disability. In Gambini,
an employee with a history of bi-polar issues had an outburst at work
when she was presented with materials about her job performance. She
was later fired for this outburst. Her employees knew of her disabilities
and tried to accommodate them, but the outbursts were impacting other
employees and the management decided to terminate her employment. She
sued her employers and at the first trial the court refused to allow
her to enter a jury instruction stating that her outbursts were caused
by her disability and thus should be covered by the ADA. She lost at
the initial trial, but upon appeal, the 9th Circuit held that the jury
instruction should have been provided to the jury and that by disallowing
it the lower court had made an error. Subsequently the court overturned
the previous verdict and ordered a new trial.
We've got Your Back: SOCR reaches out to Young People
By, Anita DeMahy, SOCR Policy and Outreach
When asked if she has ever experienced illegal discrimination, high
school senior Mariella replied, "Well, I don’t know. I guess
I don’t really know what that is."
Mariella is not alone. Many young adults are unaware of their rights
as residents, students, and employees in Seattle. As young people prepare
to enter the adult workforce and rent their own apartments, the Seattle
Office for Civil Rights wants to ensure that they know about illegal
discrimination – what it is and how they can protect themselves
The 2005 King County Communities Count Report found that in 2004 almost
60% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had experienced what they
considered to be discrimination, a great majority of these incidents
happening at work. In Seattle, however, very few young adults actually
have filed claims with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.
At SOCR, we are working hard to reach young adults. Young adults have
heard advertisements on radio stations KUBE 93 and KRIZ FM, and soon
will be able to view web ads on SeaSpot Media’s website. Additionally,
new cards proclaiming, "Speak Out against Discrimination: We’ve
Got Your Back" are being distributed to a variety of youth venues.
SOCR staff also have begun to conduct free informational presentations
about illegal discrimination with high school and community college students
and teachers, renters and landlords, employers and young employees.
If you would like to have a staff member from SOCR present to your school,
organization, or business, or if you have outreach ideas of your own
about promoting equal rights and social justice for all Seattle residents,
please call (206) 684-0154 or email Anita.deMahy@Seattle.Gov.
What are your job responsibilities at SOCR?
I have been the Director of SOCR’s Policy and Outreach team since
2005. When Germaine Covington announced her retirement last month, Mayor
Nickels appointed me to the position of Acting Director. So now I will
be responsible for overall management of SOCR. I’ve worked for
the City of Seattle for a total of about 18 years and have really appreciated
the breadth of opportunities. I’ve worked in
six city departments; including environmental programs at the utilities
to human services to race and social justice. Local government is responsible
for so much good work and I’m proud to play a role.
What inspires you about this work – and why?
I have a vision of a socially just world, and I think that the Seattle
Office for Civil Rights can play a role in achieving that. In SOCR we
make a difference – whether in the life of a single individual
or a large group of people and we help demonstrate that social justice
is within our grasp.
Any other interests?
In another life, I would have been a struggling artist. I like to create
collages, combining magazine snippets with strange found objects, bits
of material, and old photographs. I also like to garden; my garden reflects
my life – some people might look at it and wonder why it is so
unruly and out of control. Finally, I am a mother of two teenage boys,
so even if I did absolutely nothing else, my life would still be totally
What is your role/title at SOCR?
Civil Rights Analyst.
What do you like most about working for SOCR?
I love the people I work with! My colleagues are great to deal with
on a daily basis both professionally and personally. Also, the parties
that I deal with in my casework are all unique individuals with life
experiences that add to my perspective of the world.
Who has/does inspires you and why?
Two people bring me inspiration on a daily basis. My mother is my hero
because she is so giving of herself and I can only hope to be half the
woman she is. My other source of inspiration is my son because I envy
the way he experiences the world. I often look at him and realize how
much I take for granted. I find myself wondering how a cardboard box
could be so fascinating.