Pinkerton v. Spellings, 529 F.3d 513 (5th Cir. 2008)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

In this opinion, the Fifth Circuit holds that employees bringing a discrimination claim under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act need not show that discrimination was the sole factor in the adverse employment action taken against them.

This opinion arises out of confusion over how to interpret Section 501of the Rehabilitation Act (which protects employees of the federal government from employment discrimination due to their disability) and Section 504 (which applies employers who are not the federal government but receive assistance from the federal government). Some courts, including the Fifth Circuit, have interpreted language in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to require plaintiffs to demonstrate that discrimination was the sole cause of the actions their employer took against them. However, Section 501 states that, to determine whether Section 501 has been violated, one should look to the standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which does not contain the language in Section 504 discussing discrimination as the sole cause of the adverse action. Most circuits have interpreted the ADA to require the plaintiff only to demonstrate that discrimination was a "motivating factor" in the adverse employment action, rather than the sole cause. In this opinion, the Fifth Circuit joins those circuits in holding that the ADA requires only that the plaintiff show that discrimination was a motivating factor. It then goes on to hold that Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act should be interpreted the same way, and employees bringing claims under Section 501 need only demonstrate that discrimination was a motivating factor, and not the sole cause of discrimination.