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Special Education Teacher May Sue for Retaliation Under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act

K-12 Education Publications

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s ruling and found that the plaintiff, a special education teacher, had standing to sue for retaliation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, even though she is not disabled or closely associated with a person with a disablility. (Barker v. Riverside County Office of Educ.).

In Barker, a special education teacher filed a lawsuit under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claiming that her supervisors at the county education office began to retaliate against her after they learned that she and a colleague had filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Department of Education’s Office of the Civil Rights, alleging that Riverside County was denying disabled students the “free appropriate public education’ required under federal and state laws. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted the county education office’s motion to dismiss the teacher’s suit, finding that she lacked standing to sue for retaliation under either statute. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district’s court’s ruling, finding that the plain meaning of both statutes, which contain anti-retaliation provisions barring discrimination against “any individual” who has complained about alleged infringement of the rights of disabled individuals, indicates that Congress intended broad protections for advocates of disability rights. The Court further reasoned that neither statute contains language requiring such individuals to have disabilities in order to have standing, nor do they require the protected individual to have any close relationship to a disabled person. Rather, the Court found that the broad statutory language in each statute evinces Congress’ recognition that disabled individuals may require assistance from others to defend their rights.
This decision is notable because it grants standing to non-disabled people who are retaliated against for attempting to protect the rights of disabled individuals.