Wednesday, June 20, 2012

State Employee Can’t Assert ADA Claim Via §1983

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which sits in San Francisco, has issued more than its share of seemingly wrongheaded decisions.  So, it is only fair to give them credit when they get one right.  The court recently ruled that a mentally ill state worker cannot sue under §1983 in order to vindicate rights granted pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  That may not seem like an earthshaking decision to most folks, but it’s pretty significant in the world of public entity employment defense.

The plaintiff worked for the California Department of Transportation.  Because of severe mental illness, she was placed on disability retirement.  Subsequently, she sought reinstatement to active service, but the state denied the request.  The employee then sued under §1983, a civil rights statute that allows lawsuits against governmental entities for virtually all alleged constitutional deprivations, claiming that she was being denied a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  Notably, she chose not to file a claim under the ADA.

Affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the employee’s lawsuit, the Ninth Circuit correctly concluded that she could not maintain a §1983 claim predicated on alleged violations of the ADA:

By drafting a comprehensive remedial scheme for employers’ violations of ADA Title I, Congress manifested an intent to preclude §1983 remedies.  The Supreme Court’s subsequent decision[s] did nothing to change that intent.  We are not free to interpret §1983 in a way that provides a substitute remedy that Congress never provided.

The case is Okwu v. McKim, and the decision is here.

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