Professor Kimani Paul-Emile on Blackness as Disability in America

Kimani Paul-Emile is a Professor of Law and the Associate Director and Head of Domestic Programs and Initiatives at Fordham Law School’s Center on Race, Law & Justice. She is also the faculty co-director of the Fordham Law School Stein Center for Law & Ethics. Dr. Paul-Emile specializes in the areas of law & biomedical ethics, health law, anti-discrimination law, and race and the law. Her award-winning scholarship has been published widely in journals such as the Virginia Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, UCLA Law Review, George Washington Law Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and Annals of Internal Medicine, among others.

In our conversation with Dr. Paul-Emile, we discussed how genetic discrimination laws provide the framework by which the State can mitigate employment discrimination based on race. Here are the topics she explained:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. Under the ADA, an instance of disability discrimination need not be explicit; for instance, a disabled person can make the case that a building with no elevator is a case of disability discrimination because it has an immediate, apparent effect on him/her.

The current problem with today’s anti-racial discrimination laws is that it fails to protect citizens from implicit racial bias. While the Equal Opportunity Commission is a government agency that enforces anti-discrimination and reinforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it still allows employers to discriminate based on job applicants' criminal history. This has the greatest impact on Black and Latino men: they disproportionately make up the prison population for minor drug offenses and therefore have limited economic opportunity upon release from jail. For many people released from jail, they eventually fall into a cycle of recidivism: they cannot gain employment and are forced to earn an income based on criminal activity.

Paul-Emile believes that the ADA serves a model for racial discrimination laws to operate. Like the ADA, she argues that Title VII should be expanded so that it includes implicit racial discrimination on the part of employers during the hiring process. That way, Black and Brown job applicants can have greater protection from racial bias in the workplace and can have the expanded opportunity to challenge their employers who they believe discriminated against them on the basis of skin color.