Rehabilitation Act Of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (19 U.S.C.A. §§ 791, 793, 794) prohibits disability discrimination by federal agencies, federal contractors, and other recipients of federal financial assistance. Types of prohibited discrimination include employment; education; building accessibility; and health, welfare, and social services. Courts have held that private individuals may file actions under the Rehabilitation Act against federal employers or against recipients of federal financial assistance; the action need not be brought by a government entity. A plaintiff who proves that a federal employer discriminated intentionally in violation of the Rehabilitation Act may receive compensatory and PUNITIVE DAMAGES.
What constitutes a disability under the Rehabilitation Act is often the source of controversy. Blindness, deafness, diabetes, cardiac problems, mobility impairments, and chronic fatigue syndrome have been recognized as physical impairments. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that tuberculosis, a contagious disease, is a physical impairment (School Board v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 107 S. Ct. 1123, 94 L. Ed. 2d 307 ). Numerous courts have followed the logic in Arline in holding that individuals who have AIDS or who have tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are physically impaired. Courts also have held that alcoholism, anxiety panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are impairments under the Rehabilitation Act.
Prior to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was the principal federal prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability. Even with the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act remains an important protection for those with disabilities. The ADA expressly excludes from its coverage protection against discriminatory acts by the federal government, so the Rehabilitation Act provides the only private CAUSE OF ACTION for disability discrimination by federal employers and agencies. The Rehabilitation Act also remains an alternative means of remedying discrimination even when a plaintiff concurrently invokes ADA protection.
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