Court to determine if clients can sue for emotional distress


In Cummings v. First Rehab Keller, the Supreme Court will decide whether Congress intended to create a private right of action to sue for compensatory damages for emotional distress under existing federal civil rights laws.

While this case has largely passed under the radar, it will have colossal implications for the ongoing legal battle to protect religious freedom, especially since it intersects with modern interpretations of civil rights law and civil rights law. government anti-discrimination provisions.

Jane Cummings, who is deaf and legally blind, had attempted to make a physiotherapy appointment at Premier Rehab in Keller, TX for his chronic back pain. Premier Rehab is a small business and premier rehab clinic that also receives federal funding.

Due to his disability, Cummings asked Premier to provide him with a sign language interpreter. First decreases, offering instead to refer Cummings to another clinic or to offer alternative accommodation.

The alternative accommodations offered to Cummings – to communicate with her through written notes, lip reading and gestures – were, she said, insufficient to meet her needs. Cummings first demand Premier Rehab for a performer in October 2016, returning a few days later and again in February 2017. Each time Premier denied him one.

Ultimately, Cummings chose another provider who offered the accommodations she was looking for but received treatment she deemed “unsatisfactory”. In August 2018, Cummings for follow-up First Rehab.

Five years and several appeals later, the Supreme Court is now ready to hear oral argument in his case on November 30.

Cummings’ lawsuit against Premier Rehab alleges that his refusal to provide an interpreter caused him “humiliation, frustration and emotional distress.”

Although many remedies for emotional distress exist under state law, she claims that Premier Rehab’s conduct violated federal anti-discrimination laws, particularly the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 1557. the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act 2010, which to prohibit recipients of federal funding from discriminant against people with disabilities.

Under current law, compensatory damages are available to claimants under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the laws that incorporate its remedies.

For example, an applicant can recover “Compensatory damages” under the Rehabilitation Act 1973 (29 USC § 794a (a) (2)) and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (42 USC § 18116 (a)). But the Supreme Court has never clarified whether these compensatory damages include damages for emotional distress.

Advancing a theory of damage from emotional distress under federal civil rights law may sound appealing, but the impact of such an outcome could be devastating for the small businesses that form the backbone of the business. American economy.

Federal anti-discrimination laws work like a contract: companies that receive federal funding agree to abide by them, agreeing that they can be held accountable if they violate them.

Courts have allowed individual victims to sue companies that violate these laws when the laws themselves are clear enough to notify companies of this possibility. As 10 states support it in a brief friend arguing the respondent Premier Rehab, it is highly doubtful that Congress intended to include damages for damages caused by dignitaries such as emotional distress as a remedy for violations of civil rights laws.

The Supreme Court established the availability of compensatory damages for victims of discrimination in 2002 in Barnes v. Gorman. The purpose of compensatory damages is to compensate victims for their loss or damage. They differ from punitive damages, which are intended only to punish the offending party for discriminatory behavior.

Cummings does not claim that she suffered physical injury, financial harm, or any other tangible loss as a result of Premier Rehab’s refusal to ban her from an interpreter. Rather, she pursues purely on the basis of emotional distress.

Courts can and have recognized emotional distress as the only legitimate justification for bringing an action, sometimes even determining that damages for emotional distress are recoverable in the form of compensatory damages. But the Supreme Court has not yet determined whether they can be recovered as compensatory damages after a violation of civil rights law.

For example, damages for emotional distress are available as a remedy in employment discrimination law and tort law against individuals and entities who engage in willful misconduct that causes distress. emotional or engaging in negligent conduct that leads to it. Damages for emotional distress are often awarded when it is accompanied by objectively prejudicial conduct that violates the rights of individuals.

In Barnes v. Gorman, for example, a jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to a disabled person who suffered injuries after being transported in a police van that was not equipped to transport a disabled person. The Supreme Court ruled he could not be awarded punitive damages but did not touch the compensatory damages. But, like the lawyers of Premier Rehab report, the plaintiff in this case suffered actual physical harm, and not just emotional distress.

But Cummings’ case is different. Businesses and individuals can choose what they say and do, but not what they make others feel. Holding them accountable only for someone’s hurt feelings could lead to a torrent of frivolous claims for alleged violations of federal anti-discrimination law, making it more difficult for those who suffer genuine discrimination to obtain compensation. ‘they deserve and bring offenders to justice.

The ramifications of the Supreme Court decision in Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller will likely extend far beyond disability rights. Emotional distress is almost entirely subjective and could be used as a pretext to sue people and businesses under anti-discrimination law when the only alleged discriminatory behavior involved is honoring one’s religious beliefs.

If Premier Rehab is forced to pay damages for emotional distress to Cummings, what about doctors who refuse to perform mastectomies on transgender patients or bakeries who refuse to make personalized cakes for couples alike? sex?

For example, Evan Minton, who identifies as transgender, for follow-up a Catholic hospital after canceling a scheduled hysterectomy. Although this trial alleged that the hospital violated an anti-discrimination law in the state of California, there is no reason Minton could not have sued in federal court for alleged violations of federal anti-discrimination laws. -discrimination whether damages for emotional distress are compensable under these laws.

One could easily imagine other similar cases that could potentially bankrupt countless small businesses and individuals who oppose the continued prosecution of the Biden administration. redefinitions of kind, marriage and life.

As courts continue to recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law, allowing individuals to prosecute offenders for causing them loosely defined emotional distress and often unverifiable would open a Pandora’s box of adverse effects on religious freedom.

Awarding Cummings compensatory damages under federal civil rights law for his emotional distress would set an irresponsible legal precedent with incalculable, unknowable and uncontrollable consequences.

By expanding the damage due to emotional distress under anti-discrimination law, judges must also address issues of the separation of powers. Each state has its own tort laws and remedies that allow victims of discrimination like Cummings to recover damages for intentionally inflicting emotional distress. But Cummings is asking federal courts to extend an implied right of action under federal civil rights law and apply it to every state, including allowing plaintiffs to recover damages for potentially unaffected emotional distress. capped.

This result would nullify and nullify all state laws that cap the damages that can be awarded for emotional distress.

Unless and until Congress explicitly authorizes damages for emotional distress under federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Rehabilitation Act, the Supreme Court should not invent a right to sue under these laws to recover solely for emotional distress.

In other words, the court should not invent a right which does not currently exist, nor should it hold companies responsible for damage they cannot predict, quantify or predict.

Only time will tell if Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller will become one of the landmark civil rights cases in 2021. But for now, judges should refrain from creating a remedy that is unnecessary, was not intended by Congress and would probably make matters worse.

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