Oct. 29 2009

Ninth Circuit Liberally Interprets Standing Provisions of Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

Topics: Court Decisions, Discrimination, Harassment & Retaliation

The Ninth Circuit recently held that a non-disabled employee claiming retaliatory discharge had standing to sue her employer under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act--two laws which prohibit discrimination against disabled individuals by certain public entities, including the Plaintiff's employer, the Riverside County Office of Education.

The plaintiff in the case, Susan Barker, was a special education teacher for Riverside County.During the course of her employment, she complained that the County's special education services were noncompliant with federal and state law. Barker alleges that following her complaint, her supervisors began to retaliate against her by excluding her from meetings, reducing her caseload, failing to respond to her emails and phone calls, and similar conduct. Barker alleged that she was ultimately forced to resign as a result of her employer's alleged retaliatory conduct.

Barker subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Riverside County Office of Education, alleging retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. A federal District Court dismissed Barker's complaint, finding that because Barker was not "disabled" within the meaning of either law, she did not have standing to sue under such laws. Barker appealed and the Ninth Circuit agreed with Barker.Liberally construing the anti-retaliation provisions of these two laws, the Ninth Circuit held that the provisions prohibit retaliation not only against disabled individuals, but also against non-disabled individuals who advocate for the rights of disabled individuals. As a result, the Court held that Barker could proceed with her retaliation claims against Riverside County.

The case is Barker v. Riverside County Office of Education and the opinion is here.

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Robin Largent represents employers, including major food and retail companies, in all types of employment litigation: wrongful termination, retaliation, breach of contract, wage and hour (California Labor Code) and unfair competition. She also regularly counsels and advises California employers on issues of compliance with California and federal employment laws.
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