The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that, unlike the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) which covers only those who are in an employee-employer relationship, the Rehabilitation Act is worded more loosely to cover any "otherwise qualified individual."
Thus in reviewing a lawsuit against a hospital, the court ruled in favor of an independent contractor who claimed he had been denied employment based on a disability. The hospital for its part claimed the plaintiff had no legal standing since he was not an employee, as required under the ADA.
(The Rehabilitation Act is a precursor to the ADA in protecting people with disabilities, but it applies only to those businesses that receive federal funding.)
The case in question was Fleming v. Yuma Regional Medical Center. The plaintiff, an anesthesiologist, claimed he was denied a contract because he was suffering from Sickle Cell Anemia. The hospital countered that he couldn’t sue because he was not an employee, but an independent contractor.
On Nov. 19, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor and rejected the argument that the ADA restricts the scope of the Rehabilitation Act.
The Tenth Circuit Court has also interpreted matters in the same way, so in those two jurisdictions at least, the Rehabilitation Act does indeed protect independent contractors as well as employees. Since the Sixth and Eighth Circuit Courts have ruled exactly the opposite–that the ADA does restrict lawsuits under the Rehabilitation Act to employees–the logical place for the issue to be resolved is the Supreme Court, but it’s not on the docket yet.
Meanwhile, to keep up with the ADA itself, get a copy of Personnel Concepts’ ADA Amendments Act Compliance Kit and learn of how the ADA now covers virtually every employee.