On May 5, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed an order of the district court that had dismissed a disability discrimination claim brought under the Rehabilitation Act. Rutledge v. Illinois Department of Human Services, No. 15-1028 (7th Cir.). Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act prohibits government agencies that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of disability. The elements of proof and eligibility requirements a discrimination case under Section 504 are analogous to the requirements for a discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act. One of these requirements is that the employee must be able to perform the essential functions of his or her job with or without reasonable accommodation. Otherwise, there is no viable ADA or Section 504 claim.
The district court dismissed the Section 504 claim on the theory that since the plaintiff had been determined to be totally disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration, he was necessarily unable to perform his essential job duties, and consequently ineligible for a Section 504 claim. The 7th Circuit disagreed. A person who is classified as totally disabled by a government agency could still perform a job and, therefore, his or her classification as disabled by the agency does not bar a Section 504 claim under the Rehabilitation Act. Significantly, the 7th Circuit’s holding should equally apply to analogous situations in the context of ADA claims.