US High Court Says There Are No Emotional Distress Damages for Discrimination Under Rehabilitation Act and ACA | Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, CP

The United States Supreme Court on April 28, 2022 ruled that damages for emotional distress are not available for private discrimination claims under the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Affordable Care (ACA).

The high court ruled 6-3 in Cummings v Premier Rehab Keller PLLC in favor of a rehabilitation service provider who had faced claims of discrimination by a person with a disability under causes of action implicit in the Rehabilitation Act and the ACA. The ACA and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit health care companies and companies receiving federal financial assistance, respectively, from discriminating on the basis of protected characteristics, including race, sex, disability and age.

Jane Cummings, who is deaf and legally blind, alleged Premier Rehab Keller PLLC discriminated against her because of a disability after the rehabilitation center refused her request for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter during his physiotherapy sessions. The rehab center reportedly told Cummings that her therapist could communicate with her in other ways. Premier Rehab is subject to rehabilitation law because it receives reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid for providing certain services and is subject to the ACA as a healthcare provider.

The High Court said that based on its 2002 decision in Barnes v. Gorman, anti-discrimination laws passed under the Expenditures Clause of the U.S. Constitution, such as the Rehabilitation Act and the ACA, create implied private causes of action, although the remedies available for such claims are limited. . In the Barnes case, the court held that punitive damages are not available for private claims under the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the High Court held that the remedies available in such cases were based on the contractual relationship created by the Spending Acts, in which an offer of federal financial assistance is conditional on the promise not to discriminate. Since damages for emotional distress are generally not available in breach of contract claims, it follows that they are not available under rehabilitation law and the ACA, said the High Court.

Cummings had argued that damages for emotional distress were available because such damages are recoverable in certain breach of contract claims where a breach of contract is likely to cause serious emotional disturbance. The type of discrimination complaint in this case, Cummings argued, is particularly likely to cause such emotional disruption.

However, the High Court said damages for emotional distress in breach of contract cases remained the exception rather than the rule. Therefore, companies receiving money under the ACA and the Rehabilitation Act are not warned that they could suffer such damages in exchange for receiving federal funds, the High Court said.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion, which Judge Neil Gorsuch signed, which ruled against damages for emotional distress, but called the breach of contract analogy a “flawed way to determine remedies.” “. He suggested that courts refrain from expanding implied causes of action or remedies available under relevant separation of powers grounds laws.

Key points to remember

Supreme Court ruling limits type of damages recoverable in private causes of action for discrimination under ACA and Rehabilitation Act against healthcare companies and companies receiving financial assistance Federal, respectively, specifically blocking damages for emotional distress. Other remedies, such as injunctive relief, economic damages, and attorneys’ fees, remain available under these laws. Even though the case limited recoverable damages, it serves as an important reminder that ASL interpreters are often required under these laws, especially in health care settings. The case also serves as a reminder that Title III of the ADA is not the only law protecting persons with disabilities and that the Rehabilitation Act and the ACA have requirements that are both additional and different from those of the title. III.

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