Before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against private sector employees and applicants on the basis of disability, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits disability discrimination in the federal employment sector.


Disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act occurs when a person with a disability who can perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodation is denied an opportunity to perform that job because of his or her disability. A 1992 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act establishes that Rehabilitation Act violations are established using the same standards of proof as those used to establish employment-related violations of the ADA.



The Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies and certain government contractors to implement affirmative action programs to improve workplace opportunities for disabled federal employees and applicants:



Section 501 prohibits federal executive branch agencies from discriminating against people with disabilities in any employment practices, including hiring, promotions, training, firing, pay, or benefits. This section also imparts an obligation upon federal agencies and the United States Postal Service to implement affirmative action programs to promote the hiring of disabled workers.



Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits most federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against disabled employees and applicants. Contractors with 50 or more employees and a contract of $50,000 or more must also implement an affirmative action program.



Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits disability-based employment discrimination by employers receiving federal funding. This applies to any institution, agency, or organization that receives direct or indirect federal funding.



Remedies under the Rehabilitation Act


Employees or applicants believing that they have been discriminated against in violation of the Rehabilitation Act are entitled to the same remedies available to employees harmed by violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These remedies may include back pay, reinstatement, attorney fees, and hiring. Where intentional discrimination is found, punitive damages may also be awarded.



Employees filing a complaint alleging a violation of Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate the complaint to determine whether the alleged violation occurred. The EEOC may dismiss the complaint or may seek a remedy on behalf of the employee or applicant. If the EEOC decides not to prosecute the action itself, the employee or applicant may file a civil action in federal court against the employer.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.



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