Court Ruling Broadening Americans with Disabilities Act Will Harm Taxicab Safety and Cost Hundreds of Millions

A federal judge last month barred New York City’s “Taxi and Limousine Commission from issuing permits for taxicabs unless they’re accessible to people who use wheelchairs,” citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The judge effectively rewrote the ADA to cover taxi cabs, even though “the ADA specifically exempts automobile-type vehicles, including most taxicabs, from the requirement to be wheelchair accessible.”

The judge’s ruling will harm public safety and the environment, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in New York City alone: “the relief demanded ‘would require, over the next five years, that all 13,000 New York City medallion cabs be replaced by cabs that cost about $15,000 more – basically to have their frames cut and then stretched to accommodate a ramp and room inside for a person in a wheelchair. …The larger taxis are generally about 800 pounds heavier and use about 20% more fuel – raising costs and polluting the air. Stretched taxis have harsher suspensions, and are therefore less comfortable for most users, as well as more dangerous (because they are less maneuverable and harder to stop).'”

The court’s unduly expansive interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is backed by the Obama Justice Department, which filed a brief supporting the lawsuit. The Obama administration is busy reinterpreting federal labor, employment, disabilities-rights, and discrimination laws in ways that impose costly new burdens on businesses and consumers. The Obama EEOC recently sued Pepsi for doing criminal background checks on job applicants, forcing it to pay $3.1 million to settle the lawsuit. The EEOC is also threatening employers who require high-school diplomas with lawsuits under the ADA.

Employers’ ability to hire and fire based on merit has increasingly come under assault by the EEOC, which has ordered employers to discard useful employment tests and accommodate incompetent employees. For example, a hotel chain was recently compelled to pay $132,500 for dismissing an autistic desk clerk who did not do his job properly, in order for it avoid a lawsuit by the EEOC that would have cost it much more than that to defend. “The EEOC says Comfort Suites dismissed the clerk when it should instead have accepted the services of a state-paid ‘job coach’ who might have ‘helped the clerk learn to master his job by using autism-specific training techniques.’” The EEOC’s demand is hard to square with a 1979 Supreme Court decision that ruled that institutions do not have to alter essential job requirements to accommodate the disabled, and other court rulings that say that an employee must be “qualified” to begin with before any accommodation of a disability is required.

Relying on a strained interpretation of the ADA, the EEOC has sued companies that sensibly refuse to employ truck drivers with a history of heavy drinking, even though companies that hire them will be sued under state personal-injury laws when they have an accident. It has previously sued other employers who take serious criminal records into account, or use criminal background checks, even though employers who hire criminals end up getting sued when those employees commit crimes. The EEOC’s demands thus place employers in an impossible dilemma where they can be sued no matter what they do. The EEOC is also suing employers who take into account bad credit and financial histories in hiring, even though failure to take that into account can lead to lawsuits against banks and property managers by customers. The EEOC’s aggressive new stance reflects its new left-wing majority under the Obama administration, which has appointed anti-business extremists to the EEOC.