Like other 29-year-olds, Charles Irvin Littleton wanted to get a job. But the mental disabilities he was born with made it difficult. He’d graduated from high school with a certificate in special education and had attended a technical college, but he still lived at home and supported himself with social security benefits and the help of his family. He began working with a job coach who arranged for Mr. Littleton to have an interview at an Alabama Wal-Mart store. But when Wal-Mart officials told Mr. Littleton that his job coach could not come to the interview with him, everything went downhill. Mr. Littleton’s interview did not go well and Wal-Mart did not offer him a job.
Mr. Littleton sued Wal-Mart for discriminating against him because of his disability. The case went all the way up the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that Mr. Littleton was not disabled under ADA rules and therefore could not sue for disability discrimination. In order to be considered disabled for ADA purposes, Mr. Littleton had to prove that he was ‘substantially limited in a major life activity.’ Even though Mr. Littleton’s disability was permanent and limited his ability to work and learn, the court found this was not enough to prove he was disabled for purposes of the law. Mr. Littleton had attended school and was able to think, communicate and work, the court held, so he was not disabled under the ADA, even though he was mentally challenged.
He tried to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court but the justices denied his petition. Thus, Mr. Littleton’s case now makes the law more difficult for plaintiffs to bring disability discrimination lawsuits. Plaintiffs have to prove much more to show they are ‘substantially limited in a major life activity.’
For more information see our fact sheet on disability rights.