830 F.2d 354 (D.C. Cir. 1987), 86-5600, Milbert v. Koop

Docket Nº:86-5600.
Citation:830 F.2d 354
Party Name:Dr. Alfred MILBERT, Appellant, v. Dr. C. Everett KOOP, U.S. Surgeon General, et al.
Case Date:October 06, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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830 F.2d 354 (D.C. Cir. 1987)

Dr. Alfred MILBERT, Appellant,


Dr. C. Everett KOOP, U.S. Surgeon General, et al.

No. 86-5600.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

October 6, 1987

Argued May 5, 1987.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of columbia.

Mark A. Packman, with whom Judith E. Schaeffer was on the brief, for appellant. Amy G. Applegate also entered an appearance, for appellant.

Jeffrey Hunter Moon, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom Joseph E. diGenova, U.S. Atty., R. Craig Lawrence and Michael J. Ryan, Asst. U.S. Attys., were on the brief, for appellees.

Before EDWARDS and SILBERMAN [*], Circuit Judges, and

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KAUFMAN [**], Senior United States District Judge for the District of Maryland.

Opinion for the Court filed by Senior District Judge FRANK A. KAUFMAN.

FRANK A. KAUFMAN, Senior District Judge:

Appellant, Dr. Alfred N. Milbert, has been a member of the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service (PHS) since 1976. In 1981 the PHS assigned Milbert to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work as a toxicologist. In 1982 Milbert began suffering from a variety of physical ailments allegedly caused by his exposure to airborne contaminants at his work site. 1 After Milbert was advised by his physicians to avoid further exposure to those contaminants, he requested his immediate supervisors in the FDA to move him to a new office. However, according to Milbert, those supervisors failed to grant that request. 2 Milbert further contends that because he so sought relief concerning his problems with the airborne contaminants, his supervisors retaliated against him by (1) failing to promote him, and (2) giving him a negative work performance appraisal in the October 25, 1987 Commissioned Officer's Effectiveness Report (COER).

After Milbert had fully but unsuccessfully exhausted his administrative remedies concerning his claim of handicap discrimination, Milbert timely filed this case in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking relief solely under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794. Milbert's said complaint was dismissed by the district court, with prejudice, on the ground that members of the Commissioned Corps of the PHS are not entitled to the protections of the Rehabilitation Act. The within appeal followed.


Congress enacted the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 to aid handicapped individuals and in so doing, in section 501 of that Act, "established the principle that (a) the federal government, (b) federal contractors, and (c) recipients of federal funds cannot discriminate against the handicapped." Prewitt v. United States Postal Service, 662 F.2d 292, 301 (5th Cir.1981). Section 504 provides that "no otherwise qualified individual ... shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving financial assistance." 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794. Section 505(a)(2) makes applicable to section 504 the "remedies, procedures and rights set forth in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794a(a)(2).

In Prewitt, Judge Tate, in the course of reviewing the legislative history of the Act, commented:

Under the original 1973 Rehabilitation Act, a private cause of action founded on handicap discrimination was not recognized upon section 501 as against a federal government employer; the literal statutory wording merely required federal agencies to submit affirmative actions plans. However, due to differences in statutory wording, all courts that considered the issue found that section 504 established a private cause of action for handicapped persons subjected to discrimination by recipients of federal funds, while the federal courts split on the question whether the same was true under section 503 for individuals subjected to handicap discrimination by federal contractors.

In 1978, the Rehabilitation Act was amended to provide a private cause of

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action in favor of persons subjected to handicap discrimination by the federal government employing agencies. In the House, an amendment was adopted and ultimately enacted by the Congress that extended section 504's proscription against handicap discrimination to 'any program or activity conducted by an Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service;' the legislative history, as well as the judicial interpretations, fully recognized that a private right of action had been created by section 504.

The Senate, at the same time, added a new section 505(a)(1) to the Rehabilitation Act, which created a private right of action under section 501.

Prewitt, 662 F.2d at 302-03 (footnotes omitted) (emphasis in original).

Section 505(a) provides as follows:

The remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-16), including the application of sections 706(f) through 706(k) (42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(f) through (k)), shall be available, with respect to any complaint under section 791 of this title, to any employee or applicant for employment aggrieved by the final disposition of such complaint, or by the failure to take final action on such complaint. In fashioning an equitable or affirmative action remedy under such section, a court may take into account the reasonableness of the cost of any necessary work place accommodation, and the availability of alternatives therefor or other appropriate relief in order to achieve an equitable and appropriate remedy.

The remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000d et seq.] shall be available to any person aggrieved by any act or failure to act by any recipient of Federal assistance or Federal provider of such assistance under section 794 of this title.

29 U.S.C. Sec. 794a(a)(1, 2).

Thus, Title VII and its exhaustion requirements were incorporated by the Congress in 1978 into the remedy procedures of section 501. By way of contrast, section 504 incorporates Title VI--not Title VII--procedures. Title VI, which relates to the cutting off of funding of federal programs when certain prescribed discriminatory conduct occurs, does not contain exhaustion requirements similar to those of Title VII.

Ultimately, both Houses of Congress passed the 1978 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, seemingly without recognizing that the 1978 amendments contained two different approaches in the creation of a right of action by a federal government employee against his agency. Commenting in that regard, Judge Tate wrote in Prewitt:

In summary, the 1978 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act 1) established a private right of action, subject to the same procedural constraints (administrative exhaustion, etc.) set forth in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, in favor of section 501 claimants, and 2) extended section 504's proscription against handicap employment discrimination to cover the activities of the federal government itself.

Thus, by its 1978 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, Congress clearly recognized both in section 501 and in section 504 that individuals now have a private cause of action to obtain relief for handicap discrimination on the part of the federal government and its agencies. The amendments to section 504 were simply the House's answer to the same problem that the Senate saw fit to resolve by strengthening section 501. The joint House-Senate conference committee could have...

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