Section 504 of the Retaliation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination against disabled persons by recipients of federal funds. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted these laws to also prohibit retaliation against a teacher who complained about a school system's treatment of disabled students.
In Barker v. Riverside County Office of Education, the plaintiff alleged constructive termination after she voiced concerns that the school system was not complying with the requirements of federal law with respect to services provided to disabled students. The school system moved to dismiss the claim, contending that the teacher did not have standing to sue under laws that protect disabled persons.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with the plaintiff, reversing the lower court's dismissal of the complaint. Even though the teacher was not a qualified individual with a disability, the anti-retaliation provisions of the Rehabilitation Act and ADA are broad, prohibiting retaliation against any person aggrieved by any act or failure to act by a federal funds recipient. Standing is not limited to disabled persons, or even to family members of disabled persons. Anyone who advocates on behalf of a disabled person is also protected from retaliation.
This decision is consistent with recent trends in federal civil rights litigation that interpret statutory anti-retaliation provisions to have as broad coverage as possible. Federal courts consider these measures to have been intended by Congress to provide protection to all persons who can be considered to have supported the rights of the protected classification covered in the underlying legislation. Employers will have little luck trying to dispose of these complaints on standing or other technical grounds.