National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Insurance Company Ruled in Violation of ADA

By Lenny Giltman, Legal Intern

In October 1994, Susan Winslow applied to IDS Life Insurance Company for a standard long-term disability insurance policy, or, in the alternative, a long-term disability insurance policy with a rider excluding coverage for periods of disability due to her mental health condition. Winslow indicated that she was diagnosed with dysthemia within the past year and was taking an antidepressant. IDS refused both requests because of its policy of automatically denying long-term disability insurance to applicants who report having received treatment for a mental condition, regardless of seriousness, within 12 months prior to applying. In response, Winslow sued IDS under Title III of the ADA.

The Court ruled that Winslow was protected by the ADA and was treated differently by IDS because of her disability. Winslow v. IDS Life Ins. Co., 29 F. Supp. 2d 557 (D. Minn. 1998). It held that while disability-based distinctions in an insurance policy's terms are allowed under the ADA, a policy denying insurance coverage categorically to people with mental disabilities violates the law. The Court rejected IDS' argument that Title III of the ADA only applies to physical impediments to actual physical structures and stated that Title III should be interpreted broadly to embrace all impediments to full access to public accommodations lest protection for individuals with mental disabilities under the ADA be virtually negated by including only circumstances where a physical structure denied access to such individuals.

20 See, e.g. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n. v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 1998 WL 851605 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 1998) (holding that an insurance plan which discriminates against persons with mentally illness is permissible, as long as benefits for persons suffering from mental illness is not denied altogether)
21 The court relied here on Kote v. First Colony Life Ins. Co., 927 F. Supp. 1316 (C.D. Cal. 1996) See Rascon v. U.S.W. Communications, Inc., 143 F.3d 1324 (10th Cir.)