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The ADA and Texas Labor Code’s Chapter 21 are Not One and the Same Says El Paso Appellate Court

May 17th, 2017 by David Minces

The El Paso Appellate Court answered the question “What’s the difference between the ADA and Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code?” this month. For years Texas courts have interpreted Chapter 21 to be consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act and have used ADA decisions for guidance in rulings under Chapter 21. In a differentiating move, the appellate court decided in El Paso County, Texas v. Vasquez that there is a provision of the ADA that is not spelled out in Chapter 21, and will therefore not be enforced under the state law.
In Vasquez, a county employee had a heart attack and underwent surgery. During her recovery, she developed tuberculosis. When the employee returned to work she claimed that employees refused to work with her because she had tuberculosis, and some employees even made harassing comments about her illness. Vasquez alleged that the only way her co-workers could have known about her illness was if the county released her personal health information. The former employee contested that disclosure of confidential health information suffices as a claim of disability discrimination under the ADA, which the appellate court agreed. Where the court disagreed with Vasquez was in her claim that this basis under the ADA should apply to a Chapter 21 action. What we can take away from this case is that although Chapter 21’s anti-discrimination provisions are very similar to the ADA, not all claims that the ADA provides will survive under the Texas state law equivalent.

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