The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday revived an independent contractor’s employment discrimination case under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, saying the law does apply to independent contractors.
In the case, Flynn v. Distinctive Healthcare Staffing, Rochelle Flynn, a pediatrician, was assigned by Distinctive Healthcare Staffing as an independent contractor to San Antonio Military Medical Center. In May 2013, Flynn was diagnosed with autism. Around the same time, the medical center complained of performance issues to her staffing firm. Upon discussing those issues with Flynn, she notified the staffing firm of her diagnosis and requested accommodation. She was subsequently removed from the assignment at the medical center’s request; asserting her autism was the cause of the performance issues, she requested reinstatement with accommodation, but was denied.
Flynn sued her staffing provider, claiming it discriminated against her “on the basis of her disability, subjected [her] to a hostile work environment based on her disability, and denied her a reasonable accommodation.” A lower court ruled she could not sue because she was an independent contractor. The Fifth Circuit disagreed.
While this case was against a staffing provider, companies that use ICs should take note. Whereas the Americans with Disabilities Act is limited to direct employment relationships, the Rehabilitation Act is not as restrictive.