Today’s case is from the Seventh Circuit, Frakes v. Peoria School District No. 150. This case is the first federal case I am aware of dealing with how do you go about proving a prima facie case for interference under the ADA. The ADA at 42 U.S.C. §12203 contains both retaliation and interference claims. The blog entry is divided into several categories and they are: where do you see interference claims; just how do you prove it; just what is purposeful discrimination under the ADA; aren’t there really just three elements to interference; other issues; and takeaways. The reader of course is free to concentrate on any or all of the categories, but I think you’ll want to read the whole thing.
Where Do You See Interference Claims
I have seen interference claims come up particularly with respect to higher education. Oftentimes, what happens is disability services comes up with a plan for the person with a disability, and then, either the bureaucracy or individual faculty members interfere with that plan. In those situations, interference claims may arise.
Just How Do You Prove It?
Until our case of the week, it was very unclear as to how you would prove it. When I have faced this situation, I have relied on the Fair Housing Act because there were not any ADA cases on point. Now, we have an ADA case on point. The Seventh Circuit said that proving up this kind of case means: 1) the plaintiff was engaged in activity statutorily protected by the ADA; 2) the plaintiff was engaged in, or aided or encouraged others in, the exercise or enjoyment of ADA protected rights; 3) the defendant coerced, threatened, intimidated, or interfered on account of her protected activity; and 4) the defendants were motivated by an intent to discriminate.
In higher education, it typically works like this. The plaintiff requests reasonable accommodations from disability services, disability services comes up with a plan, and then a faculty member or perhaps someone in the bureaucracy blocks the implementation of that plan or blocks the ability of that plan to be carried out effectively. So: requesting a reasonable accommodation is statutorily protected activity under the ADA; plaintiff would then be engaged in the exercise or enjoyment of ADA protected rights; the adverse reaction of the bureaucracy and/or faculty members to the request is then done on account of her protected activity; and then you have to prove intent.
Just What Is Purposeful Discrimination under the ADA?
We have discussed intentional discrimination under the ADA before, such as here (purposeful discrimination), and here (deliberate indifference). In most higher education interference cases, it would seem fairly easy for either of these standards to be met.
Aren’t There Really Just Three Elements to Interference?
It seems to me that elements one and two are the same. That is, element number two is automatically satisfied if element one is satisfied.
There are other issues created by interference claims including:
- Can you get compensatory and punitive damages in interference claims. The answer to that question will be the same as the answer for retaliation, which we discussed here, considering the layout of 42 U.S.C. §12203.
- Just when does the statute of limitations begin to run, especially since the Office of Civil Rights, if the student has elected to pursue that, can take quite a bit of time. The answer to this question very much depends upon the place you are in. I have seen courts go for constructive discharge. I have also seen courts say that each time a request for an accommodation is made, the clock starts to run at that moment in time, such as in the blog entry discussing this case. Similarly, if there is an interference situation, the clock will start to run at the moment interference occurs. I will say that the federal courts do not favor continuing violations.
- Training, training, training by a knowledgeable person is really important. Especially with faculty members, they often feel they have complete control over their classrooms. That isn’t the way it rolls.
- If you have different schools at your university, make sure each school has a dedicated 504/ADA person assigned to it so that the ADA/504 person understands the needs of that particular school.
- Get lawyers involved when necessary.
- On the plaintiff’s side, you want to get an attorney as fast as possible since every time an accommodation request is made or interference occurs, the statute of limitations starts to run unless you are in a constructive discharge jurisdiction, of which there aren’t many. This is particularly the case since administrative processes, whether they are internal or external, can take considerable amount of time and the statute of limitations clock is running in the meantime.
- If you are on the University side, make sure you have done the two step, which we have discussed here.
- Just what is causation for interference claims? Is it but for or mixed motive (see this blog entry)? We do know that causation for retaliation claims is but for and interference often gets put in the same box as retaliation, but the fact remains that retaliation and interference are separate statutory provisions in 42 U.S.C. §12203. Also, element four of the prima facie case discussed above, seems to leave room for argument that mixed motive could be in play.
Of course, if you have any questions about this and/or are seeking training in this area, feel free to get in touch with me.