The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Supreme injustice

Jan 21, 2002

On January 8, the Supreme Court ruled against a woman whose job left her permanently disabled. Ella Williams lost her job at a Toyota plant in Kentucky because a painful repetitive-stress injury to her arms and hands prevented her from doing her job.

Williams had filed suit against Toyota under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, asking that Toyota give her a job suited to her injury so she could go on working.

Toyota claimed that Williams’ impairment, diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome, was “a specialized and idiosyncratic limitation.” They went on to say: “Repetitively wiping cars with arms at shoulder level is not a major life activity” and therefore she can’t sue under the act. Toyota argued that major life activities means working in general, and does not include a job of one’s choice.

Williams told the court that without accommodation her injuries would bar her from most jobs available to a Kentucky resident of modest education. There was no dispute that the job she had done at Toyota had caused her injuries.

Speaking for the majority on the court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor agreed with Toyota, saying repetitive physical activity was not “of central importance to most people’s daily lives.” Apparently Justice O’Connor doesn’t think work is central to daily life!

Maybe for Supreme Court Justices, work is not central, but for the rest of us, paying our bills IS the major life activity.

The Supreme Court set a new precedent with Ella Williams’ case – one which will affect millions of workers. Some estimates are that almost 60 million Americans will suffer from chronic musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, by the year 2020.