Supreme Court says there are no awards for emotional harm in some discrimination lawsuits

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The Supreme Court split along ideological lines on Thursday in dismissing a discrimination claim filed by a deaf and legally blind woman who wanted to sue a physical therapy company for emotional distress.

The court ruled 6-3, with conservatives in the majority, saying facilities that receive federal funds under laws such as the Affordable Care Act cannot be held liable when the alleged harm is emotional rather than a financial loss.

The case was brought by Jane Cummings, who communicates primarily in American Sign Language and sought physical therapy services in 2016 from Premier Rehab Keller, a small business in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cummings asked Premier Rehab to provide an ASL interpreter at his appointments, but the company refused.

He said Cummings could communicate with his therapist using written notes, lip reading or gestures. Cummings instead obtained care from another provider and sued. Premier was subject to federal discrimination laws because he received reimbursement for some of his services through Medicare and Medicaid.

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A district judge dismissed the suit because he said Cummings could not seek damages for emotional harm, and a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agreed.

So does Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority. He said the general rule is that damages for emotional distress are only available in “very unusual” contracts, and there was no reason to believe that covered the type of agreements these establishments enter into. regarding federal funds.

Organizations should be clearly informed before accepting the money if they faced such liability, Roberts said. “After all, when considering accepting federal funds, a potential recipient would surely wonder not only what rules they should follow, but also what kind of penalties might be on the table,” he wrote.

He was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

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Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissented, along with fellow liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

He said funding recipients should have known their liability because “the laws before us prohibit intentionally abhorrent discrimination. This type of discrimination is particularly likely to cause serious emotional turmoil.

The narrow view of the majority of available damages will have consequences, Breyer wrote.

“The Court’s decision today allows victims of discrimination to recover damages only if they can prove that they have suffered economic harm, even though the main harm caused by discrimination is rarely economic,” a- he writes. “Indeed, victims of intentional discrimination can sometimes suffer profound emotional harm without any pecuniary harm. Today’s court ruling will leave these victims without any remedy.

The deal is Cummings vs Premier Rehab Keller.


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