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ADA Title II Doesn't Apply to Public Employment Discrimination Claims

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on November 08, 2013 2:55 PM

It's not often that a circuit court addresses a question of first impression in its circuit, getting the opportunity to weigh in on a circuit split, but last week, that is what happened in the Seventh Circuit.

Further deepening the divide among the circuits, the Seventh held that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to public employment discrimination-based claims.

Factual and Procedural Background

Linda Brumfield was a Chicago police officer for about eleven years, from 1999 to 2010. Beginning in 2006, she started developing "psychological problems," but despite evaluations, was determined fit for duty. In 2008, Brumfield began to file a series of lawsuits against the Chicago Police Department alleging everything from ADA violations, Rehabilitation Act violations, and state law claims. Following claim dismissals, appeals and consolidations, we are left with the present case.

The surviving claims were an ADA Title II claim and a Rehabilitation Act claim. Because the ADA Title II claim addresses a question of first impression, we only address that claim here.

The Interplay of Title I and Title II of the ADA

Title I of the ADA specifically prohibits employment discrimination because of disability, while Title II prohibits the exclusion from the benefits, services, programs or activities because of disability. The Seventh Circuit had to determine whether Title II of the ADA provided redress for employment discrimination, supplemental to the remedies found in Title I. Because Brumfield's Title I claim was barred by res judicata, the court reluctantly addressed the question of first impression.

Does Title II Apply to Employment Discrimination Claims

In determining whether Title II provided redress for employment discrimination, the Seventh Circuit looked to its sister circuits. The Ninth and Tenth Circuits found that Title II did not provide a remedy for employment discrimination, while the Eleventh Circuit came to the opposite conclusion.

Relying on the Ninth Circuit's interpretation, the Seventh Circuit noted that getting and keeping a job was not "'the receipt of services,' nor is employment a 'program or activity provided by a public entity.'" Furthermore, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the Ninth and Tenth Circuits, finding that the Chevron test did not apply here because (1) the law was not ambiguous; and (2) Congress provided an "employment-specific regulatory scheme sitting right next door in Title I."

Repercussions

The Seventh Circuit noted that in coming to its lone decision, the Eleventh Circuit gave very little analysis to the actual text of the statute, and placed heavy emphasis on the legislative history. It also noted that the Eleventh Circuit was constrained by its own circuit's precedent in reaching the unpopular conclusion.

It's hard to say whether this will end up in the Supreme Court, but we think on this set of facts, it's probably not the right case to pursue the issue further. We also think some other circuits would have to come to the same conclusion as the Eleventh Circuit, for it to really rise to the level of the Supreme Court stepping in to clarify the law.

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