Disabled people cannot bring employment discrimination claims under ADA’s Title II

10th Circuit sets public employers' minds at rest, invoking 11th Amendment immunity

The 10th Circuit in Elwell v. State of Oklahoma offered public employers the peace of mind that they are not subject to discrimination claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With this Sept. 11, 2012, decision, the 10th Circuit joined the majority of other circuit courts in so finding. (Only the 11th Circuit has disagreed; see “Standout Circuit.”)

Judy Elwell worked for the University of Oklahoma doing office work such as researching and writing. She developed a degenerative spinal disc condition for which she sought accommodations, though she said her condition did not prevent her from doing the essential functions of her job. In this case, Elwell accused the university of refusing to provide accommodations and firing her because of her disability. She brought claims under both Title II of the ADA and the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (OADA).

11th Amendment Immunity

The 10th Circuit dismissed Elwell’s claims under OADA because the state of Oklahoma has sovereign immunity from lawsuits under the 11th Amendment. Elwell argued that OADA provided a cause of action against “any person” who commits employment discrimination based on disability, and that the statute defined a “person” to include “the state, or any governmental entity or agency.” 

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