Washington State Supreme Court Defines Disability

July, 2006

On July 6, 2006, the Washington State Supreme Court held that under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), "disability" has the same definition as under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Prior to this decision, Washington's definition of disability had been a source of confusion because the legislature did not clearly define the term.  Accordingly, the state courts and other state agencies had differing definitions.  

In McClarty v. Totem, the plaintiff, Kenneth McClarty, began doing industrial and commercial electrical work.  His work varied from using a jackhammer to level trenches to installing pipe.  McClarty complained to his foreman that his hands hurt and he asked for a break.  His foreman told him to consult with a doctor.  McClarty was diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel and was given work restrictions for six months.  McClarty provided his restrictions to his employer and was subsequently terminated.  The termination notice stated reduction in workforce/layoffs as the reason.  McClarty sued his employer for disability discrimination.

Recognizing that "disability" had not been clearly defined, the Washington State Supreme Court held that the definition of disability under the WLAD is the same as the definition under the ADA.  The court stated:

"To provide a single definition of 'disability' that can be applied consistently throughout the WLAD, we adopt the definition of disability set forth in the federal ADA.  We hold that a plaintiff bringing suit under the WLAD establishes that he has a disability if he has (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities, (2) a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment."

This definition helps Washington employers better understand what is expected of them under the WLAD.

If you would like more information about the WLAD or the ADA,  please contact Cascade.


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