First Circuit Rules No Mixed-Motive Claims of Disability Retaliation

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on August 08, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the issue of mixed-motive retaliation claims by government employees earlier this month.

Interestingly, the court found that such claims would fail when the purported discrimination was only one of the motivating factors behind the adverse employment action.

Mixed-motive claims can complicate an otherwise simple retaliation claim, and the three judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals grappled with the disability claim of a Department of Veterans Affairs medical support assistant.

The former employee, Mark Palmquist, alleged that he was denied promotions after he suffered a brain injury from a helicopter crash. The promotion denials, he alleged, were based on the fact that he had filed a complaint in 2004 for lack of disability accommodation.

Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 addresses mixed-motive claims and the associated remedies. The problem with the Title VII argument, the court said, was that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 didn't fully incorporate these remedies.

Rather, the court agreed with the district court's view that the appropriate standard came from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids mixed-motive claims.

The court noted that the retaliation must be the "but-for" cause of the adverse employment action, in order for the plaintiff to be entitled to remedy.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals hadn't addressed this issue before and drew its conclusion from other circuits. The problem, however, was that there was a split among the circuits.

Can we see this case go before the Supreme Court? It's likely that parties will ask the high court to hear this one.

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