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Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal

Volume 9 2005 Number 2

How Courts, Employers, and the ADA Disable Persons with Bipolar Disorder
Ramona L. Paetzold


Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is meant to provide increased employment opportunities for persons having both physical and mental disabilities, it appears that persons with mental illness, and in particular bipolar disorder (BPD), may not be benefiting from the provisions of the Act. This article addresses the difficulties that persons with BPD face in maintaining employment as a result of judicial interpretation of the Act. To accomplish this goal, the author first details the nature of BPD, explaining that although it has similarities in symptoms with other mental illnesses, it is unique in some aspects as well. After presenting two competing models of disability — the medical model and the social model — the author then addresses the natural of the ADA, explaining why it relies more on the medical model of disability in a way that disadvantages persons with BPD. Cases involving employees with BPD are analyzed under a variety of provisions of the ADA to demonstrate how employer preferences for traditional workplace arrangements are reinforced by the legal system. The author then makes recommendations for future judicial interpretation of provisions of the ADA so that persons with BPD (and other forms of mental illness) can achieve parity in treatment with persons having physical disabilities.


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