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Mother's win affirms rights of persons with disabilities

January 26, 2012: How does a two-year-old boy get kicked out of daycare? Lisa Meade is a mother whose allergy to latex is so extreme that she experiences life-threatening respiratory symptoms whenever exposed to an environment where powdered latex gloves are in use. She had asked the staff at her son’s daycare to wear non-latex gloves instead of powdered latex gloves. After refusing to make the accommodation, the daycare asked her son to leave the daycare. Ms. Meade sued the daycare for discrimination in its refusal to provide a reasonable accommodation of her disability in the case Meade v. Shangri-La, but the Court of Special Appeals ruled against her.  
On February 26, 2009, the Public Justice Center represented a number of organizations, including the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, Maryland Disability Law Center, Maryland Employment Lawyers Association, Maryland Nurses Coalition, Inc., Civil Justice, Inc. and the Maryland Nurses Association, in filing an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals in support of Ms. Meade. The amicus brief urged the Court of Appeals to overturn the Court of Special Appeals’ erroneous interpretation of the terms “disability” and “handicap” derived from a previous version of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and not the broader, remedial definition under the Howard County Code and Maryland state law. The brief argued that the Court of Special Appeals’ restrictive definition would have prohibited people with intermittent disabilities, such as severe allergic reactions or asthmatic events, from being protected under the law, as well as people who are able to mitigate the severity of their disability.

On January 26, 2012, the Court of Appeals overturned the Court of Special Appeals ruling. The Court of Appeals took the position urged by the PJC, adopting a definition of “handicap” or “disability” that places emphasis not on proving that one’s condition fulfills an arbitrary, restrictive standard, but rather on the discriminatory conduct of the defendant. This interpretation better adheres to the original legislative intent of such non-discrimination statutes, which was to afford those with disabilities “the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous.”

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