Section 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 87 Stat. 355, 29 U. S. C. § 791 et seq. (Act or Rehabilitation Act), prohibits, among other things, discrimination on the basis of disability "under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency." 29 U. S. C.§ 794(a) (1988 ed., Supp. V). The question presented in this case is whether Congress has waived the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against awards of monetary damages for violations of this provision.
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is a federal service academy that trains students to serve as commercial merchant marine officers and as commissioned officers in the United States Armed Forces. The Academy is administered by the Maritime Administration, an organization within the Department of Transportation. Petitioner James Griffin Lane entered the Academy as a first-year student in July 1991 after meeting the Academy's requirements for appointment, including passing a physical examination conducted by the Department of Defense. During his first year at the Academy, however, Lane was diagnosed by a private physician as having diabetes mellitus. Lane reported the diagnosis to the Academy's Chief Medical Officer. The Academy's Physical Examination Review Board conducted a hearing in September 1992 to determine Lane's "medical suitability" to continue at the Academy, following which the Board reported to the Superintendent of the Academy that Lane suffered from insulin-dependent diabetes.
In December 1992, Lane was separated from the Academy on the ground that his diabetes was a "disqualifying condition," rendering him ineligible to be commissioned for service in the Navy/Merchant Marine Reserve Program or as a Naval Reserve Officer. After unsuccessfully challenging his separation before the Maritime Administrator, Lane brought
The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Lane, concluding that his separation from the Academy solely on the basis of his diabetes violated the Act. The court ordered Lane reinstated to the Academy, and the Government did not dispute the propriety of this injunctive relief. The Government did, however, dispute the propriety of a compensatory damages award, claiming that the United States was protected against a damages suit by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The District Court disagreed; it ruled that Lane was entitled to a compensatory damages award against the Government for its violation of § 504(a), but deferred resolution of the specific amount of damages due. 867 F.Supp. 1050 (DC 1994).
Shortly thereafter, however, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in Dorsey v. United States Dept. of Labor, 41 F.3d 1551 (1994), that the Act did not waive the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages for violations of § 504(a). The court denied compensatory damages based on the absence, in any statutory text, of an "unequivocal expression" of congressional intent to waive the Government's immunity as to monetary damages, and this Court's instruction that waivers of sovereign immunity may not be implied, see, e. g., Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 95 (1990).
In light of Dorsey, the District Court vacated its prior order to the extent that it awarded damages to Lane and held that Lane was not entitled to a compensatory damages award against the Federal Government. App. to Pet. for Cert. 5a-6a. Lane appealed. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit first rejected Lane's request for initial en banc review to reconsider Dorsey, then granted the
Section 504(a) of the Act provides that
Section 505(a)(2) of the Act describes the remedies available for a violation of § 504(a): "The remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shall be available to any person aggrieved by any act or failure to act by any recipient of Federal assistance or Federal provider of such assistance under [§ 504]." § 794a(a)(2). Because Title VI provides for monetary damages awards, see Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60, 70 (1992) (noting that "a clear majority" of the Court confirmed in Guardians Assn. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of New York City, 463 U.S. 582 (1983), that damages are available under Title VI for intentional violations thereof), Lane reads §§ 504(a) and 505(a)(2) together to establish a waiver of the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages awards for violations of § 504(a) committed by Executive agencies.
The clarity of expression necessary to establish a waiver of the Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages for violations of § 504 is lacking in the text of the relevant provisions. The language of § 505(a)(2), the remedies provision, is telling. In that section, Congress decreed that the remedies available for violations of Title VI would be similarly available for violations of § 504(a) "by any recipient of Federal assistance or Federal provider of such assistance." 29 U. S. C. § 794a(a)(2). This provision makes no mention whatsoever of "program[s] or activit[ies] conducted by any Executive agency," the plainly more far-reaching
The lack of clarity in § 505(a)(2)'s "Federal provider" provision is underscored by the precision with which Congress has waived the Federal Government's sovereign immunity from compensatory damages claims for violations of § 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U. S. C. § 791, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment decisions by the Federal Government. In § 505(a)(1), Congress expressly waived the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against certain remedies for violations of § 501:
Section 505(a)(1)'s broad language—"any complaint under section 501"—suggests by comparison with § 505(a)(2) that Congress did not intend to treat all § 504(a) defendants alike with regard to remedies. Had Congress wished to make Title VI remedies available broadly for all § 504(a) violations, it could easily have used language in § 505(a)(2) that is as sweeping as the "any complaint" language contained in § 505(a)(1).
The Act's attorney's fee provision makes a similar point. Section 505(b) provides that, "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce or charge a violation of a provision of this title, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." 29 U. S. C. § 794a(b). This provision likewise illustrates Congress' ability to craft a clear waiver of the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against particular remedies for violations of the Act. The clarity of these provisions is in sharp contrast to the waiver Lane seeks to tease out of §§ 504 and 505(a)(2) of the Act.
Lane insists nonetheless that § 505(a)(2) compels a result in his favor, arguing that the Department of Transportation is a "Federal provider" within the meaning of § 505(a)(2) and thus is liable for a compensatory damages award regardless
Lane next encourages us to look not only at the language of the liability and remedies provisions but at the larger statutory scheme, from which he would discern congressional intent to "level the playing field" by subjecting the Federal Government to the same remedies as any and all other § 504(a) defendants. A statutory scheme that would subject the Federal Government to awards of injunctive relief, attorney's fees, and monetary damages when it acts as a "Federal provider," but would not subject it to monetary damages awards when, and only when, a federal Executive agency itself commits a violation of § 504(a), Lane posits, is so illogical
The statutory scheme on which Lane hinges his argument is admittedly somewhat bewildering. But the lack of perfect correlation in the various provisions does not indicate, as Lane suggests, that the reading proposed by the Government is entirely irrational. It is plain that Congress is free to waive the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against liability without waiving its immunity from monetary damages awards. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) illustrates this nicely. Under the provisions of the APA, "[a] person suffering legal wrong because of agency action, or adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute," is expressly authorized to bring "[a]n action in a court of the United States seeking relief other than money damages and stating a claim that an agency or an officer or employee thereof acted or failed to act in an official capacity or under color of legal authority." 5 U. S. C. § 702 (emphasis added).
In any event, Lane's "equal treatment" argument largely misses the crucial point that, when it comes to an award of money damages, sovereign immunity places the Federal Government on an entirely different footing than private parties. Petitioner's reliance on Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60 (1992), then, is misplaced. In Franklin, we held only that the implied private right of action under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 supports a claim for monetary damages. "[A]bsent clear direction to the contrary by Congress," we stated, "the federal courts have the power to award any appropriate relief in a cognizable cause of action brought pursuant to a federal statute." Id., at 70-71. Franklin, however, involved an action against nonfederal defendants under Title IX. Although the Government does not contest the propriety of the injunctive relief Lane obtained, the Federal Government's sovereign immunity prohibits wholesale application of Franklin to actions
And Lane's "equal treatment" argument falters as well on a point previously discussed: Section 505(a)(2) itself indicates congressional intent to treat federal Executive agencies differently from other § 504(a) defendants for purposes of remedies. See supra, at 192-193. The existence of the § 505(a) (2) remedies provision brings this case outside the "general rule" we discussed in Franklin: This is not a case in which "a right of action exists to enforce a federal right and Congress is silent on the question of remedies." 503 U. S., at 69. Title IX, the statute at issue in Franklin, made no mention of available remedies. Id., at 71. The Rehabilitation Act, by sharp contrast, contains a provision labeled "Remedies and attorney fees," § 505. Congress has thus spoken to the question of remedies in § 505(a)(2), the only "remedies" provision directly addressed to § 504 violations, and has done so in a way that suggests that it did not in fact intend to waive the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages awards for Executive agencies' violations of § 504(a). Given the existence of a statutory provision that is directed precisely to the remedies available for violations of § 504, it would be a curious application of our sovereign immunity jurisprudence to conclude, as the dissent appears to do, see post, at 209-210, that the lack of clear reference to Executive agencies in any express remedies provision indicates congressional intent to subject the Federal Government to monetary damages.
Even if §§ 504(a) and 505(a)(2) together do not establish the requisite unequivocal waiver of immunity, Lane insists, the "equalization" provision contained in § 1003 of the Rehabilitation
The "public entities" to which § 1003 refers, Lane concludes, must include the federal Executive agencies named in § 504(a), and those agencies must be subject to the same remedies under § 504(a), including monetary damages, as are private entities.
Although Lane's argument is not without some force, § 1003 ultimately cannot bear the weight Lane would assign
Section 1003 is also open to a second interpretation, one similar to the "leveling" interpretation suggested by petitioner: By reference to "public or private entit[ies]," Congress meant only to subject the States to the scope of remedies available against either public or private § 504 defendants, whatever the lesser (or perhaps the greater) of those remedies might be. Lane's reading of the statute— one that would suggest that all § 504(a) defendants, including the States, are subject to precisely the same remedies for violations of that provision—would effectively read out of the statute the very language on which he seeks to rely. That is, if the same remedies are available against all governmental and nongovernmental defendants under § 504(a), the "public or private" language is entirely superfluous. Congress could have achieved the result Lane suggests simply by subjecting States to the same remedies available against "every other entity," without further elaboration. The fact that § 1003(a)(2) itself separately mentions public and private entities suggests that there is a distinction to be made in
Although neither of these conceivable readings of § 1003(a)(2) is entirely satisfactory, their existence points up a fact fatal to Lane's argument: Section 1003(a) is not so free from ambiguity that we can comfortably conclude, based thereon, that Congress intended to subject the Federal Government to awards of monetary damages for violations of § 504(a) of the Act. Given the care with which Congress responded to our decision in Atascadero by crafting an unambiguous waiver of the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1003, it would be ironic indeed to conclude that that same provision "unequivocally" establishes a waiver of the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages awards by means of an admittedly ambiguous reference to "public . . . entit[ies]" in the remedies provision attached to the unambiguous waiver of the States' sovereign immunity.
For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Breyer joins, dissenting.
The Court relies on an amalgam of judge-made rules to defeat the clear intent of Congress to authorize an award of damages against a federal Executive agency that violates § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U. S. C. § 794. To reach this unfortunate result, the majority ignores the Act's purpose, text, and legislative history, relying instead on an interpretation of the structure of §§ 504 and 505 that the Court admits is "curious," ante, at 193, and "somewhat bewildering," ante, at 196.
The relevant facts are undisputed. The Department of Transportation violated § 504 by separating petitioner Lane
Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act to "develop and implement, through research, training, services, and the guarantee of equal opportunity, comprehensive and coordinated programs of vocational rehabilitation and independent living" for the disabled. 29 U. S. C. § 701, as amended by Pub. L. 95-602, Title I, § 122(a)(1), 92 Stat. 2984. As originally enacted in 1973, § 504 of the Act provided:
Although the Court pays scant attention to the principle, we have previously held that congressional intent with respect to a statutory provision must be interpreted in the light of the contemporary legal context. Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60, 71 (1992). A review of the relevant authorities convinces me that § 504 created a private cause of action with a damages remedy.
The text of § 504 was modeled on the language of § 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits
Our explicit holding in Cannon was that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was also patterned on Title VI, created a private cause of action.
Congress passed § 504 in 1973, just one year after enacting Title IX. Relying on analysis like that set forth in Cannon, the Courts of Appeals have uniformly held that Congress intended § 504 to provide a private right of action for victims of prohibited discrimination.
Our decision in Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60 (1992), makes it equally clear that all traditional forms of relief, including damages, are available in a private action to enforce § 504. In Franklin we held that a plaintiff could seek monetary damages against a school system accused of violating her rights under Title IX. We canvassed the long history of the principle that "where legal rights have been invaded, and a federal statute provides for a general right to sue for such invasion, federal courts may use any available remedy to make good the wrong done." Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 684 (1946). See Franklin, 503 U. S., at 65-71. Applying this rule to the implied cause of action in Title IX, we rejected the government's contention that "whatever the traditional presumption may have been when the Court decided Bell v. Hood, it has disappeared in succeeding decades." Id., at 68. From Franklin it follows ineluctably that the original version of § 504—enacted, it bears repeating, one year after Title IX—authorized a damages remedy for persons aggrieved by violations of the provision's discrimination ban.
Against this background, Congress passed legislation in 1978 to extend § 504's prohibition against discrimination on
As part of this general expansion of the original Act, Congress amended § 504 to forbid discrimination against the handicapped "under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service."
The Court rejects this conclusion, however, because it reads another part of the 1978 amendment, § 505(a)(2), as a limitation on the remedies available against Executive agencies under § 504. In my judgment, the Court errs by misinterpreting the language and structure of § 505 and ignoring its legislative history.
Congress' intent to strengthen the Act's protections is clearly evident in § 505. The inclusion of an attorney's fees provision in § 505(b) fortified the Act's enforcement mechanisms. This assistance to plaintiffs was necessary, according to the Senate Report accompanying the amendments, because "the rights extended to handicapped individuals under title V . . . are, and will remain, in need of constant vigilance by handicapped individuals to assure compliance . . . ." S. Rep. No. 95-890, p. 19 (1978).
The remedies provision, § 505(a), was also meant to ensure compliance with the 1973 Act, not to restrict remedies that Congress had made available under § 504, as the majority
Between the enactment of § 504 in 1973 and the passage of § 505(a)(2) in 1978,
In enacting § 505(a)(2), Congress explicitly recognized and approved the application of Title VI's enforcement procedures to § 504. Thus, despite the Court's narrow focus on the incorporation of the remedies provided by Title VI, § 505(a)(2) provides that the "remedies, procedures, and rights " set forth in Title VI are available to an individual aggrieved by the conduct of a federal grant recipient. 29 U. S. C. § 794a(a)(2) (emphasis added). As the Senate Report explained:
Viewed in this context, the reference in § 505(a)(2) to "Federal provider[s]" that the Court finds so puzzling is easily understood: The compliance mechanisms defined in Title VI include remedies, procedures, and rights applicable to the providers of federal financial assistance as well as to the recipients of such assistance. See 29 U. S. C. § 2000d—1 et seq.; see, e. g., 34 CFR §§ 100.6-100.10 (1995) and Part 101 (Department of Education regulations implementing Title VI); 45 CFR §§ 80.6-80.10 (1995) and Part 81 (same for Department of Health and Human Services); id., §§ 611.6-611.10 (same for National Science Foundation).
Section 505(a)(1), the analogous provision for violations of § 501's prohibition on handicap discrimination in federal
Unlike § 501 and the clause of § 504 relating to recipients of federal financial assistance, the prohibition on handicap discrimination in programs or activities conducted by federal Executive agencies had no simple statutory analogue. The Court opines that if "Congress [had] wished to make Title VI remedies available broadly for all § 504(a) violations, it could easily have used language in § 505(a)(2) that is as sweeping as the `any complaint' language contained in § 505(a)(1)." Ante, at 193. I agree. Congress did not so intend, however, because, in the words of the United States, "[i]t would have been odd for Congress to have provided that Title VI remedies applied in Section 504 cases involving discrimination by executive agencies because Title VI [unlike § 504] does not prohibit discrimination in programs or activities
The oddity extends beyond the nomenclature used to describe § 504 defendants. There are at least two substantive differences between federal Executive agencies and federal grantees as defendants under the provision. First, Title VI provides remedies that are appropriate against recipients of federal financial assistance, such as the withdrawal of funding for continuing violations, see 42 U. S. C. § 2000d—1, but that make no sense if applied against an agency defendant. Second, some violations that an agency might commit concern discrimination more closely analogous to statutory provisions outside of Title VI. Thus, the standard enforcement procedures adopted for alleged violations of § 504 involving employment discrimination by federal agencies require the agency to follow § 501 enforcement procedures. See, e. g., 7 CFR § 15e.170(b) (1995) (Department of Agriculture regulations implementing § 504's mandate to federal agencies); 15 CFR § 8c.70 (1995) (same for Department of Commerce); 45 CFR § 85.61 (1995) (same for Department of Health and Human Services).
Viewed in its historical context, § 505(a)(2) simply has no application to violations of § 504 committed by federal agencies acting in a nonfunding capacity. Section 505(a)(2) delineates the remedies, procedures, and rights available to persons aggrieved by the conduct of federal grantees and federal funding agencies. It is silent on the remedies, procedures and rights available for transgressions of § 504 by federal Executive agencies acting in a nonfunding capacity. The relief to which petitioner is entitled is rooted in § 504 itself.
In my opinion, § 504 is amply sufficient to meet petitioner's needs. By failing to dictate explicitly the remedies available against federal agencies, Congress left in place the remedies that accompany § 504's implied cause of action. As Congress understood in both 1973 and 1978, these remedies
Under the Court's current jurisprudence, however, § 504 apparently must be read in a vacuum. Since the advent of United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30 (1992), the Court not only requires the traditional clear statement of a waiver of sovereign immunity but steadfastly refuses to consider the legislative history of a statute, no matter how opaque the statutory language or crystalline the history.
Not surprisingly, given its lack of fidelity to the statutory text and history, the Court's reasoning leads to two implausible conclusions. To credit the Court's analysis, one must believe that Congress intended a damages remedy against a federal Executive agency acting indirectly in the provision
In addition, the majority's holding necessarily presumes that Congress intended to impose harsher remedies on the States (which come under the § 504 provision prohibiting handicap discrimination by federal grantees) than on federal agencies for comparable misconduct. Given the special respect owed to the States—a respect that provided the ratio decidendi for our decision in Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 242 (1985)—this suggestion is wholly unconvincing. And once again, the legislative history of the Rehabilitation Act contains no mention of such an intent and no hint of a policy justification for this distinction.
The Court's strict approach to statutory waivers of sovereign immunity leads it to concentrate so carefully on textual details that it has lost sight of the primary purpose of judicial construction of Acts of Congress. We appropriately rely on canons of construction as tie breakers to help us discern Congress' intent when its message is not entirely clear. The presumption against waivers of sovereign immunity serves that neutral purpose in doubtful cases. A rule that refuses to honor such a waiver because it could have been expressed with even greater clarity, or a rule that refuses to accept guidance from relevant and reliable legislative history, does not facilitate—indeed, actually obstructs—the neutral performance of the Court's task of carrying out the will of Congress.
I respectfully dissent.
Michael A. Greene and Jerry W. Lee filed a brief for the American Diabetes Association as amicus curiae.