Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett

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  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Joined Amicus Brief

Determined whether Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment allows states to be sued for violating the ADA and allows Congress to enforce the ADA against states.

Summary of the Case

In 1997, Patricia Garrett, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's OB/GYN/Neonatal Services, and Milton Ash, a correction officer with the Alabama Department of Youth Services, filed separate suits claiming disability discrimination by the state in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Garrett alleged that the university discriminated against her on the basis of her disability, breast cancer. Garrett alleged that when she began chemotherapy treatment, the university repeatedly threatened to transfer her due to her condition, despite the fact that she continued to perform all her job duties. Upon returning to work after a physician-recommended leave to treat her cancer, Garrett was demoted to a significantly lower-paid position. Ash alleged that the state Department of Youth Services (DYS) failed to accommodate his asthma. He and his doctors had repeatedly asked DYS to maintain and repair its vehicles so they would not emit toxic fumes, and to enforce its "No Smoking" policy, but DYS refused.

The cases presented two closely related issues. First, did Title I of the ADA contain a clear statement of Congress's intent to abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, so that states could be sued for violating the ADA. Second, was authorizing such suits a valid exercise of Congress' power, under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, to enact statutes that implement the constitutional guarantee of "equal protection of the laws."  

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum joined nineteen other civil rights organizations in filing an amicus brief arguing that the remedies afforded by the ADA were appropriate legislation pursuant to Congress's powers under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to remedy and deter unconstitutional state conduct.


In a stunning blow to congressional power, the Supreme Court held that Congress had not validly abrogated the states' sovereign immunity because Title I of the ADA exceeded Congress's powers under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found that Congress did not identify a pattern of irrational state discrimination against the disabled, and that the remedies afforded by Title I of the ADA were overbroad because they prohibited too much conduct that was constitutionally permissible.