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Federal appeals court rules Rehabilitation Act extends to post-traumatic stress

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday reversed [opinion, PDF] a district court ruling and found that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [NIMH backgrounder] may qualify as a disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [text, DOC]. The plaintiff in the case, Martin Desmond, alleged that he was forced to resign from the FBI New Agent Training Unit [FBI backgrounder] in Quantico, VA when his superiors learned that he suffered from PTSD. Desmond argued that his dismissal from the program constituted discrimination based on disability, in violation of Section 501 of the Act. In its ruling, the court explained that under the Rehabilitation Act a plaintiff is disabled if "(1) he suffers from an impairment; (2) the impairment limits an activity that constitutes a major life activity under the Act; and (3) the limitation is substantial." Finding that PTSD qualified as a "mental impairment" and that sleep constituted a "major life activity," the court concluded that the condition was covered by the Act where evidence of significant sleeplessness exists. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

The Rehabilitation Act, administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration [official website], was passed in 1973 to prevent discrimination based on disability in government agencies and federally funded programs, and foreshadowed broader legislation like the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act [official website] and other measures aimed at increasing protection for people with disabilities in the workplace. Last week, the US House of Representatives passed [JURIST report] the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 [HR 3195 materials], which will make it easier for employees with mental or physical handicaps to prove they are victims of employment discrimination. Supporters of the bill contend that the Supreme Court has interpreted the ADA in an overly restrictive manner, denying protection to a wide range of disabilities.

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