The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with jurisdiction over California employers, has ruled that the federal Rehabilitation Act covers discrimination claims brought by an independent contractor. The Rehabilitation Act applies to federal agencies, government contractors and organizations that receive federal funding.
Recent case: Dr. Lester Fleming is an anesthesiologist who has sickle cell anemia. He applied for a position at the Yuma Regional Medical Center in Arizona, which receives federal funding. When the medical center learned he had sickle cell anemia, it canceled the proposed contract, claiming it couldn’t accommodate his medical needs with a special operating room and on-call schedule.
Fleming sued, alleging that, even as a contractor, he was covered by the Rehabilitation Act and entitled to reasonable accommodations.
The medical center argued that he was not covered because the ADA covers only employees, not independent contractors. Since the Rehabilitation Act uses the ADA’s standards to determine who is disabled and how reasonable accommodations should be made, the medical center urged the court to conclude that it should apply the ADA definition of who is covered.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that notion, writing that the plain language of the Rehabilitation Act covers any individual who is discriminated against because of disability in any program or activity receiving federal funds.
It reinstated Fleming’s lawsuit. He’ll now have a chance to prove he is disabled and could have been reasonably accommodated. (Fleming v. Yuma Regional Medical Center, No. 07-16427, 9th Cir., 2009)
Advice: Contact your attorney now to discuss whether you are covered by the law and what changes you need to make to your employment policies to ensure that independent contractors receive the accommodations they are due under the law.
Final note: Other circuits have decided differently, so this case may head to the U.S. Supreme Court.