681 F.2d 1376 (11th Cir. 1982), 81-7746, Jones v. Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority

Docket Nº:81-7746.
Citation:681 F.2d 1376
Party Name:William E. JONES, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. METROPOLITAN ATLANTA RAPID TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 06, 1982
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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681 F.2d 1376 (11th Cir. 1982)

William E. JONES, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

METROPOLITAN ATLANTA RAPID TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 81-7746.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 6, 1982

McGuigan, Repasky & Greer, Alexander J. Repasky, Atlanta, Ga., for plaintiff-appellant.

Kutak, Rock & Huie, Paul A. Howell, Jr., Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Francis Toole, Brenda Krebs Pollard, Atlanta, Ga., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before VANCE, JOHNSON and HENDERSON, Circuit Judges.

JOHNSON, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff William E. Jones filed suit alleging that defendant Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 794, and various federal regulations by denying him a position as bus driver because of his handicap. The district court, 522 F.Supp. 370, determined that plaintiff lacked standing and dismissed the suit. Plaintiff appeals. We reverse.

I. Facts

MARTA provides rapid transit for the metropolitan area of Atlanta. The transit authority receives federal financial assistance in the form of engineering and construction grants and operating subsidies from the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). MARTA apparently utilizes a portion of the DOT funds to subsidize wages of certain employment positions, including traffic checkers and bus drivers.

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Plaintiff worked for MARTA as a bus driver for 15 years. In March 1976 plaintiff suffered an injury that necessitated the amputation of his right leg. Plaintiff recovered from the injury and was rehired by MARTA as a traffic checker. Plaintiff, however, became dissatisfied with his position and sought reinstatement as a bus driver. Plaintiff asserted that despite his injury he was capable of performing the required functions of a bus driver. MARTA officials concluded that plaintiff's injury prevented him from performing the duties of a bus driver and denied his request for reinstatement.

After exhausting administrative remedies, plaintiff brought an action under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 794, contending that MARTA discriminated against him on the basis of his handicap. 1 The district court dismissed the suit. The court determined that Section 504 only provided a cause of action against employers that received federal financial assistance for the primary purpose of providing employment. Although MARTA received federal financial assistance, the funding was not primarily intended to provide employment.

The district court did note that plaintiff had standing under regulations promulgated by the DOT. 49 C.F.R. § 27.31. The regulations prohibited discrimination against qualified handicapped people in programs or activities that received federal financial assistance of any kind, not just those receiving funds for purposes of providing employment. The district court determined, however, that the regulations exceeded the scope of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and were therefore invalid. Accordingly, MARTA was not amenable to suit under either the Rehabilitation Act or the DOT regulations.

II. Statutory Framework

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against otherwise handicapped individuals in "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ...." 29 U.S.C.A. § 794. 2 The Rehabilitation Act does not, however, specify the remedies, procedures and rights of an aggrieved party. Instead, Section 505 provides that the "remedies, procedures, and rights" of a handicapped individual injured under the Act are found in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 29 U.S.C.A. § 794a. 3

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Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) contains sweeping prohibitions against race discrimination by employers. 4 Congress, however, placed significant restrictions upon the breadth of Section 601. Section 604 authorizes a federal department or agency to maintain an action against employers to enforce Title VI only if the employer receives federal financial assistance and "a primary purpose of the Federal financial assistance is to provide employment." 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000d-3. 5 Thus in order to bring suit under Title VI, an employer must receive federal funds for purposes of providing employment.

A number of circuits have concluded that Congress intended to incorporate the restrictions found in Section 604 of Title VI into the Rehabilitation Act. United States v. Cabrini Medical Center, 639 F.2d 908 (2d Cir. 1981); Carmi v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, 620 F.2d 672 (8th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 892, 101 S.Ct. 249, 66 L.Ed.2d 117 (1981); Trageser v. Libbie Rehabilitation Center, Inc., 590 F.2d 87 (4th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 947, 99 S.Ct. 2895, 61 L.Ed.2d 318 (1979). Thus, a plaintiff will not have standing to maintain a suit under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act unless the employer receives federal financial assistance and the primary purpose of the assistance is to provide employment. The courts have employed a variety of rationale to justify the incorporation of Section 604 into the Rehabilitation Act. In Carmi, supra, the Eighth Circuit essentially concluded that Congress intended the Rehabilitation Act and Title VI to be read in pari materia. The Fourth Circuit in Trageser, supra, determined that Congress intended to incorporate Section 604 into the Rehabilitation Act when it amended the Act by adding Section 505.

In the absence of controlling precedent in this Circuit 6 and in order to ascertain the correctness of these holdings, we must examine both the language of the relevant statutes and their legislative history.

III. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

The starting point for the interpretation of a statute is the language of the act itself. Perrin v. United States, 444 U.S. 37, 42, 100 S.Ct. 311, 314, 62 L.Ed.2d 199 (1979); United States v. Anderez, 661 F.2d 404, 406 (5th Cir. 1981). Normally, a court will interpret a statute in a manner consistent with the plain meaning of the statutory language. Fitzpatrick v. Internal Revenue Service, 665 F.2d 327, 329 (11th Cir. 1982).

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Where, however, the language of a statute is ambiguous or leads to absurd results, a court is free to consult the legislative history and discern the true intent of Congress. American Trucking Assn, Inc. v. I.C.C., 659 F.2d 452, 459 (5th Cir. 1981); Glenn v. United States, 571 F.2d 270, 271 (5th Cir. 1978).

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act specifically prohibits discrimination against qualified handicapped people in "any program or activity receiving Federal assistance .... 29 U.S.C.A. § 794. On its face, therefore, the Section applies to programs receiving federal financial aid of any kind. Moreover, nothing in the language of the statute indicates that it was intended to reach only those programs receiving federal financial assistance for the primary purpose of providing employment. 7 Because the statute is unambiguous and does not lead to absurd results, we would normally pretermit our analysis here. Nonetheless, for purposes of clarification and in light of authority to the contrary, United States v. Cabrini Medical Center, supra; Carmi v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, supra, we turn to the legislative history to determine whether Congress intended to restrict application of the Rehabilitation Act to those programs receiving federal financial assistance for the primary purpose of employment. See Watt v. Alaska, 451 U.S. 259, 266, 101 S.Ct. 1673, 1677, 68 L.Ed.2d 80 (1981).

Congress enacted the Rehabilitation Act in 1973. Pub.L.No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 355 (1973). Neither the House nor the Senate reports contain even a scintilla of evidence indicating that Congress intended to incorporate Section 604 of Title VI into the Rehabilitation Act and limit the applicability of Section 504 to programs receiving federal financial assistance for the primary purpose of providing employment. The legislative history to Section 504 does not even mention Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Instead, the reports merely reiterate that Section 504 applies to any program receiving federal financial assistance. 8

The Rehabilitation Act was amended in 1974. Pub.L.No. 93-516, 88 Stat. 1619 (1974). Congress noted obliquely in the legislative history to the amendments that Section 504 was "patterned" after Section 601 of Title VI. S.Rep.No. 1297, 93rd Cong., 2d Sess. (1974), reprinted in U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News 6373, 6390. At least one circuit has relied upon this lone reference as indicia that Congress intended to incorporate wholesale the provisions of Title VI, including Section 604, into the Rehabilitation Act. Carmi v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, supra, 620 F.2d 675. We find such an interpretation reads far too much into an isolated reference in the legislative history.

The reference does not indicate an intent to incorporate the strictures of Title VI into the Rehabilitation Act. Viewed in context, the reference constitutes nothing more than acknowledgement that Section 504 was written with the same sweeping language found in Section 601 of Title VI. In fact, the legislative history to the 1974 amendments is replete with notations indicating

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that Section 504 was intended to encompass programs receiving federal financial assistance of any kind, not just those programs receiving federal financial assistance for the purpose of providing employment. 9 Furthermore, had Congress intended to incorporate wholesale the provisions of Title VI into the Rehabilitation Act, the legislative body would have had no reason to amend the Act in 1978 and...

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