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