Factors influencing Circuit Court of Appeals decisions under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Michael H. Fox, Sc.D., Amanda Reichard, Ph.D.

†Both authors received portions of salary support from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to work on this project. Funding for this work was used to pay for portions of salary for both authors and was provided by NIDRR grant H133B00050, awarded to the University of Kansas in January 2001. Human subjects’ approval was received from the University of Kansas at that time. There are no other financial disclosures to report.

Disability and Health JournalOctober 2008 Volume 1, Issue 4, Pages 224–235
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2008.07.003




The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was a political compromise whose language invited wide interpretation. Many now feel that its promise as significant civil rights legislation has gone unfulfilled. Title I, protecting persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, has been the object of intense scrutiny, leading to speculation that court decisions have made it virtually impossible for plaintiffs to hold employers accountable. We sought to summarize issues surrounding Title I of the ADA and use appellate court data for 1995-2005 to test the following two research questions: What factors appear to influence plaintiff wins under Title I of the ADA? What is the relative importance of factors leading to plaintiff wins?


We extracted 345 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals published cases between 1995 and 2005 matching for the West digest topic Civil Rights key number 1215, “Discrimination by reason of handicap, disability or illness.” Cases were analyzed descriptively, and differences between categories of court, plaintiff, and defendant characteristics were analyzed with χ2 techniques. Using logistic regression, a predictive model for plaintiff wins was developed.


Overall, 29.3% of court cases found in favor of plaintiffs. Yet findings point to a significant advantage for plaintiffs if litigation is tried in Circuits 2, 3, 9, or 10; if judges are appointed by Democrats; and if suits are filed against large companies.


Understanding factors that contribute to plaintiff wins is important to help develop policies and practices that promote the intent of the ADA.