Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett

PETITIONER: Board of Trustees of University of Alabama
LOCATION: Office of Attorney General

DOCKET NO.: 99-1240
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 531 US 356 (2001)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 2000
DECIDED: Feb 21, 2001

Jeffrey S. Sutton - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Michael H. Gottesman - Argued the cause for the respondents
Seth P. Waxman - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case

After Patricia Garrett, Director of Nursing for the University of Alabama, was diagnosed with breast cancer, her treatment forced her to take a substantial leave from work. Upon her return, her supervisor informed her she would have to give up her position. Milton Ash, a security officer for the Alabama Department of Youth Services, who suffers from chronic asthma, requested that his employer modify his duties to accommodate him. Ultimately, none of Ash's requested relief was granted and his job performance evaluations fell. Both Garrett and Ash filed discrimination suits against their Alabama state employers, seeking money damages under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits the States and other employers from "discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability because of that disability... in regard to... terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." The District Court disposed of both cases by ruling that the ADA exceeds Congress' authority to abrogate the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Court of Appeals reversed.


May an individual sue a state for damages in federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990?

Media for Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 2000 in Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 21, 2001 in Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court in two cases to announce: the first 99-1240, The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama versus Garrett.

And here Patricia Garrett was employed as a registered nurse by the University of Alabama in Birmingham Hospital.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994 and transferred to a lower paying position in the hospital.

Milton Ash worked as a security officer for the Alabama Department of Youth Services.

He suffered from chronic asthma and sleep apnea and he requested but was denied various workplace accommodations related to these conditions.

In separate lawsuits Garrett and Ash sued their state employers in Federal District Court under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The District Court dismissed both cases on the ground that the Eleventh Amendment of the constitution forbids such suits in Federal Court for money damages against the state.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reverse concluding their Congress had abrogated that immunity in enacting ADA pursuant to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk, we reverse that decision.

Our decisions have established that a non-consenting state cannot be sued for money damages in Federal Court unless the suit is authorized by validly enacted congressional legislation.

Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment allows Congress to enforce the substantive guarantees found in Section 1 of that Amendment but Congress must not change the substance of Section 1’s protections by passing enforcement legislation.

In our case decided a few years ago the City of Boerne against Flores, we explained that Section 5 legislation if it extends beyond the scope of Section 1’s guarantees, as set forth by this Court, must be congruent and proportional to the underlying constitutional right Congress seeks to protect.

And so far as it was applied to state employment Title I of the ADA fails this test.

In Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, we concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment provides that state action regarding the disabled that is supported by a rational-basis does not run afoul of the Constitution.

It is clear that in enacting the ADA Congress was not responding to a documented pattern of irrational state employment discrimination against the disabled.

In fact, there is strong evidence that the drafters of Title I of the ADA were concerned primarily with employment discrimination in the private sector.

Even if Congress did perceive some problem in state employment practices the ADA prohibits so much more than mere irrational behavior that the statute in effect rewrites the substance of the Fourteenth Amendment's protections.

Application of the ADA to the states thus does not properly rest upon Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

There is no basis for waiving the state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity from damages actions in Federal Court.

Justice Kennedy has filed a concurring opinion joined by Justice O’Conner; Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg joined.