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Court Drops Disabilities Law Dispute

March 1, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Dropping a high-profile states’ rights case Wednesday, the Supreme Court backed out of deciding whether state employees are protected by a key federal anti-bias law.

The justices dismissed an Arkansas dispute over the Americans with Disabilities Act that they had agreed in January to review. They cited a rule most often invoked when an out-of-court settlement has been reached.

The court dropped a similar Florida case just last week after it also was the subject of an out-of-court settlement.

Both cases had been closely watched because the court’s view of the ADA and states’ 11th Amendment immunity from being sued in federal courts could have determined whether anyone can invoke the ADA and sue a state for alleged discrimination based on a disability.

The Baltimore Sun reported last week on what it called ``a widening national campaign to head off court rulings that would cut back on the legal rights of the disabled.″

The newspaper said disability-rights activists are seeking to avoid court rulings they fear would shield states from ADA lawsuits.

In the Arkansas case, Christopher Alsbrook sued the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training, a state regulatory agency, only to have the case thrown out on 11th Amendment grounds.

Alsbrook, a 1993 graduate of the agency’s training academy, worked as a policeman for the city of Maumelle, Ark., for three years before he was denied a job with the Little Rock Police Department because he did not meet the state’s vision requirement.

The law enforcement commission then notified the Maumelle Police Department that he was not certified for law enforcement duties. Maumelle officials subsequently barred Alsbrook from doing any police-related work.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Alsbrook’s case, ruling by a 6-4 vote that Congress was not authorized to allow ADA lawsuits against state employers.

The Supreme Court had been scheduled to hear arguments in Alsbrook’s case on April 26, the last day for oral arguments in its 1999-2000 term.

In the Florida case that washed out last week, prison guard Wellington Dickson said his failure to win a promotion was the result of discrimination because of his age and heart condition.

The Arkansas case dropped by the Supreme Court on Wednesday is Alsbrook vs. Arkansas, 99-423.

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