Seventh Circuit Review


In its recent decision in Serwatka v. Rockwell Automation, Inc., the Seventh Circuit overruled its prior circuit precedent and found that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not create liability for mixed-motive claims. As a result of this decision, if an employer impermissibly considers an employee's disability in making a decision adverse to the employee, courts will not hold the employer liable provided that the plaintiff cannot also show that such consideration was the but-for cause of the challenged action. Prior to 2009, the Seventh Circuit had recognized mixed-motive causation under the ADA; it relied primarily on Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which found that Title VII's phrase "because of" allowed for mixed-motive causation. Later, in light of the 1991 Amendments to Title VII's causation language, the Supreme Court in Gross v. FBL Financial Services held that mixed-motive claims were not viable under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Serwatka extended this ADEA case to the ADA and drastically changed the availability of protection to people with disabilities who allege discrimination at their workplace. This Note will examine to what extent a circuit court needs to adhere to Supreme Court precedent analyzing identical language from a different statute and will ultimately conclude that Serwatka improperly extended the Court's ADEA analysis to the ADA context. This Note will argue that, instead of relying on Gross, Serwatka should have relied on Price Waterhouse because its underlying rationale is applicable to the ADA and the 1991 Amendments did not undermine its continued viability as instructive precedent. Finally, this Note explores the impact that the 2008 ADA Amendments will have on the issue and ultimately concludes that the Amendments do not alter the strong arguments advocating for the recognition of mixed-motive claims under the ADA.

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GrossedOut.mp3 (2343 kB)
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