Explaining ADA employment discrimination charges over the business cycle

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Economists and legal scholars have long debated what effects, if any, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generated for people with disabilities. Empirical studies usually focus on the employerside impact of Title I, which prohibits adverse workplace decisions with respect to hiring, termination, and conditions of employment, and that literature has produced decidedly mixed findings. Largely missing from the conversation, however, has been an employee-focused account, one that describes when and why employees seek legal relief under Title L This Article addresses that deficiency by analyzing the submission of every ADA Title I charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) between 1992 and 2011 as a function of the unemployment rate, political economy factors, state disability protection law, and disability type. Using statelevel panel data, I first show that a percentage point increase in the unemployment rate is associated with about 30% more charge submissions. Employees with disabilities are therefore more likely to file discrimination claims during recessionary periods, which causes the ADA to resemble an informal unemployment insurance mechanism. Second, the success rate is ambiguously tied to the unemployment rate. Depending on the definition of success, the datasuggest that charges submitted during recessionary periods tend to find less purchase at the EEOC. With respect to political economy explanations, states with Republican-controlled legislatures produce fewer Title I charges, but the statistical evidence is fairly weak. More interestingly, the opposite is true for states that enacted ADA-like statutes before 1990. Finally, no discernible differences in EEOC charge activity emerge according to the charging party's disability type. The Article concludes with a few research implications and policy recommendations for the EEOC and employers to address the employment of people with disabilities over the business cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)737-790
Number of pages54
JournalUniversity of Cincinnati Law Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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