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By writing a leading treatise on the Americans with Disabilities Act a decade ago, Gary Phelan was a sought-after authority on the controversial new law, while still an associate at the New Haven firm of Garrison & Arterton. The co-author of his book, with second billing, is Janet Bond Arterton, now a U.S. District Court judge. After 12 years with the Garrison firm, Phelan teamed up in 2001 with West Hartford’s Howard Klebanoff. He’s an authority on school disability law who, as a state legislator, had drafted some of the key law in his field. There wasn’t enough room in Klebanoff’s suite of offices, so new partner Phelan rented an adjoining office. It turned out to be a good idea. Effective Oct. 1, Phelan went on his own — in the same space — as Gary Phelan, LLC, and is of counsel to the New York plaintiffs’ employment firm of Outten & Golden. As a 14-lawyer plaintiffs’ employment law firm, it’s one of the largest in the nation for that niche. To help his clients thrive in the workplace, Phelan has been proposing ADA “reasonable accommodations” for years. And to help make his latest job transition go smoothly, he’s come up with one for himself. After his interim “of counsel” period in West Hartford, with one associate, Phelan said he plans to move to Fairfield County next April. At that point, he is to open an Outten & Golden office, and shift to partner status. The ‘of counsel’ arrangement gives Phelan time to relocate his residence from Guilford to Fairfield County with minimal disruption for his school-age children, he said. Phelan, whose practice includes all aspects of employment law, has been interested in pursuing more class action discrimination suits, which are difficult to manage from a small office, he said. In the years Phelan has been speaking and writing on the ADA, he’s seen it suffer from a series of high court setbacks, from the U.S. Supreme Court down. Those setbacks have made his area of expertise more minefield than goldmine. “The case law, at the summary judgment level, has been somewhat discouraging,” he said. But it produces substantial legal work, particularly in mediation, where there hasn’t been a decrease in cases. Court ADA setbacks, he said, have prompted a higher reliance on state law in both New York and Connecticut, where the definition of disability is much broader than under federal law. “While the ADA might have been somewhat of a disappointment, at the same time it has dramatically raised awareness about disability rights in the workplace and increasing focus on state laws.”

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