California Labor &
Employment Law Blog

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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About the Editor

Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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