480 U.S. 273 (1987), 85-1277, School Board of Nassau County, Florida v. Arline

Docket Nº:No. 85-1277
Citation:480 U.S. 273, 107 S.Ct. 1123, 94 L.Ed.2d 307, 55 U.S.L.W. 4245
Party Name:School Board of Nassau County, Florida v. Arline
Case Date:March 03, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 273

480 U.S. 273 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 1123, 94 L.Ed.2d 307, 55 U.S.L.W. 4245

School Board of Nassau County, Florida

v.

Arline

No. 85-1277

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1987

Argued December 3, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Act), provides, inter alia, that no "otherwise qualified handicapped individual," as defined in 29 U.S.C. § 706(7), shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from participation in any program receiving federal financial assistance. Section 706(7)(B) defines "handicapped individual" to mean any person who

(i) has a physical . . . impairment which substantially limits one or more of [his] major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations define "physical impairment" to mean, inter alia, any physiological disorder affecting the respiratory system, and define "major life activities" to include working. Respondent was hospitalized for tuberculosis in 1957. The disease went into remission for the next 20 years, during which time respondent began teaching elementary school in Florida. In 1977, March, 1978, and November, 1978, respondent had relapses, after the latter two of which she was suspended with pay for the rest of the school year. At the end of the 1978-1979 school year, petitioners discharged her after a hearing because of the continued recurrence of tuberculosis. After she was denied relief in state administrative proceedings, she brought suit in Federal District Court, alleging a violation of § 504. The District Court held that she was not a "handicapped person" under the Act, but that, even assuming she were, she was not "qualified" to teach elementary school. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that persons with contagious diseases are within § 504's coverage, and remanded for further findings as to whether respondent was "otherwise qualified" for her job.

Held:

1. A person afflicted with the contagious disease of tuberculosis may be a "handicapped individual" within the meaning of § 504. Pp. 280-286.

(a) Respondent is a "handicapped individual" as defined in § 706 (7)(B) and the HHS regulations. Her hospitalization in 1957 for a disease that affected her respiratory system and that substantially limited "one or more of [her] major life activities" establishes that she has a "record of . . . impairment." Pp. 280-281.

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(b) The fact that a person with a record of impairment is also contagious does not remove that person from § 504's coverage. To allow an employer to justify discrimination by distinguishing between a disease's contagious effects on others and its physical effects on a patient would be unfair, would be contrary to § 706(7)(B)(iii) and the legislative history, which demonstrate Congress' concern about an impairment's effect on others, and would be inconsistent with § 504's basic purpose to ensure that handicapped individuals are not denied jobs because of the prejudice or ignorance of others. The Act replaces such fearful, reflexive reactions with actions based on reasoned and medically sound judgments as to whether contagious handicapped persons are "otherwise qualified" to do the job. Pp. 281-286.

2. In most cases, in order to determine whether a person handicapped by contagious disease is "otherwise qualified" under § 504, the district court must conduct an individualized inquiry and make appropriate findings of fact, based on reasonable medical judgments given the state of medical knowledge, about (a) the nature of the risk (e.g., how the disease is transmitted), (b) the duration of the risk (how long is the carrier infectious), (c) the severity of the risk (what is the potential harm to third parties), and (d) the probabilities the disease will be transmitted and will cause varying degrees of harm. In making these findings, courts normally should defer to the reasonable medical judgments of public health officials. Courts must then determine, in light of these findings, whether any "reasonable accommodation" can be made by the employer under the established standards for that inquiry. Pp. 287-288.

3. Because the District Court did not make appropriate findings, it is impossible for this Court to determine whether respondent is "otherwise qualified" for the job of elementary school teacher, and the case is remanded for additional findings of fact. Pp. 288-289.

772 F.2d 759, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 289.

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BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

[107 S.Ct. 1125] JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 87 Stat. 394, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Act), prohibits a federally funded state program from discriminating against a handicapped individual solely by reason of his or her handicap. This case presents the questions whether a person afflicted with tuberculosis, a contagious disease, may be considered a "handicapped individual" within the meaning of § 504 of the Act, and, if so, whether such an individual is "otherwise qualified" to teach elementary school.

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I

From 1966 until 1979, respondent Gene Arline taught elementary school in Nassau County, Florida. She was discharged in 1979 after suffering a third relapse of tuberculosis within two years. After she was denied relief in state administrative proceedings, she brought suit in federal court, alleging that the school board's decision to dismiss her because of her tuberculosis violated § 504 of the Act.1

A trial was held in the District Court, at which the principal medical evidence was provided by Marianne McEuen, M.D., an assistant director of the Community Tuberculosis Control Service of the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. According to the medical records reviewed by Dr. McEuen, Arline was hospitalized for tuberculosis in 1957. App. 11-12. For the next 20 years, Arline's disease was in remission. Id. at 32. Then, in 1977, a culture revealed that tuberculosis was again active in her system; cultures taken in March, 1978, and in November, 1978, were also positive. Id. at 12.

The superintendent of schools for Nassau County, Craig Marsh, then testified as to the school board's response to Arline's medical reports. After both her second relapse, in the spring of 1978 and her third relapse in November 1978, the school board suspended Arline with pay for the remainder of the school year. Id. at 49-51. At the end of the 1978-1979 school year, the school board held a hearing, after which it discharged Arline, "not because she had done anything wrong," but because of the "continued reoccurence [sic] of tuberculosis." Id. at 49-52.

In her trial memorandum, Arline argued that it was

not disputed that the [school board dismissed her] solely on the basis of her illness. Since the illness in this case qualifies the

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Plaintiff as a "handicapped person," it is clear that she was dismissed solely as a result of her handicap in violation of Section 504.

Record 119. The District Court held, however, that, although there was "[n]o question that she suffers a handicap," Arline was nevertheless not "a handicapped person under the terms of that statute." App. to Pet. for Cert. C-2. The court found it "difficult . . . to conceive that Congress intended contagious diseases to be included within the definition of a handicapped person." The court then went on to state that, "even assuming" that a person with a contagious disease could be deemed a handicapped person, Arline was not "qualified" to teach elementary school. Id. at C-2-C-3.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that "persons with contagious diseases are within the coverage of section 504," and that Arline's condition "falls . . . neatly within the statutory and regulatory framework" of the Act. 772 F.2d 759, 764 (CA11 1985). The court remanded the case

for further findings as to whether the risks of [107 S.Ct. 1126] infection precluded Mrs. Arline from being "otherwise qualified" for her job and, if so, whether it was possible to make some reasonable accommodation for her in that teaching position

or in some other position. Id. at 765 (footnote omitted). We granted certiorari, 475 U.S. 1118 (1986), and now affirm.

II

In enacting and amending the Act, Congress enlisted all programs receiving federal funds in an effort

to share with handicapped Americans the opportunities for an education, transportation, housing, health care, and jobs that other Americans take for granted.

123 Cong.Rec. 13515 (1977) (statement of Sen. Humphrey). To that end, Congress not only increased federal support for vocational rehabilitation, but also addressed the broader problem of discrimination against the handicapped by including § 504, an antidiscrimination provision patterned after Title VI of the Civil Rights

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Act of 1964.2 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act reads in pertinent part:

No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in section 706(7) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. . . .

29 U.S.C. § 794. In 1974, Congress expanded the definition of "handicapped individual" for use in § 504 to read as follows:3

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[A]ny person who (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as...

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