U.S., automakers join disability case

Repetitive-motion test case
At issue: Whether assembly-line worker's repetitive-motion injuries are a disability

What's new: Federal government, other automakers side with Toyota.

Next: Oral argument, Supreme Court, Nov. 7

WASHINGTON - When Toyota goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 7, it will have the federal government at its side and the rest of the automobile industry backing it up.

The heavy-hitting support is the latest indication of the importance of the case, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. vs. Ella Williams.

At issue is whether a person who is unable to perform some manual tasks on the job is considered disabled and thereby entitled to protection under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

Toyota is trying to overturn a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that assembly line worker Williams qualified for ADA protection. The judges said a trial should be held to see whether Toyota did enough to accommodate her repetitive-motion injuries.

Toyota said it gave Williams less demanding assignments after she developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists and tendinitis in her arms and neck but fired her for not coming to work. She said some assignments caused symptoms to return.

The Bush administration, through Solicitor General Theodore Olson, has filed a brief with the court saying the federal government has a stake in the outcome: Federal agencies are responsible for enforcing the ADA, and the decision could affect workplace conditions for federal employees.

The government argued in its brief that "an individual is 'substantially impaired' in 'working' only if his impairment excludes him from a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes."

Another newly filed brief, this one from industry groups, warns that allowing the appeals court ruling to stand "would bring a broad additional segment of the work force within the protection of the ADA, imposing unwarranted costs on employers while doing little to advance the ADA's goal of increasing opportunities for the severely impaired."

Signing on to that brief were the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers. Others were the American Trucking Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The groups argued that "Congress expected that some (impaired) workers would continue to negotiate the job market without any help from the ADA."

Other briefs supporting Toyota were filed by the National Manufacturers Association and Levi Strauss & Co.

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