On Thursday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation to clarify that victims of discrimination can seek damages for emotional harm under federal law after the Supreme Court curtailed their ability to do so in its April ruling in Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller.
The Clarifying Civil Right Remedies Act of 2022 ensures that people who suffer emotional harm because of discrimination they experienced have the ability to seek restitution under federal anti-discrimination statutes—recognizing that while discrimination may not cause a financial loss, it can and often does cause lasting emotional distress.
“Our anti-discrimination laws exist to protect against discrimination and ensure that when discrimination does occur, those who suffer it can seek the justice they deserve in court,” said Senator Murray. “But a recent Supreme Court decision unfairly limited the ability of victims of discrimination to seek restitution in court. Our legislation will right this wrong, protect people’s dignity, and ensure that anyone who experiences humiliation, frustration, and emotional distress because of discrimination they faced at the doctor’s office, in the classroom, and in so many other settings can seek justice in our courts.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller is extremely harmful to those who have experienced emotional distress due to discrimination,” said Senator Durbin. “The loophole that allowed this decision must be addressed immediately. That’s why I joined Senator Murray in introducing the Clarifying Civil Rights Remedies Act of 2022, which would clarify that damages for emotional harm are available to victims of discrimination. No one who faces discrimination should be subjected to this additional burden.”
In April, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts that victims of discrimination cannot sue under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Affordable Care Act to recover damages for emotional distress caused by illegal discrimination. The decision denies many victims of discrimination an appropriate remedy for the harms they have suffered.
The Clarifying Civil Right Remedies Act of 2022 makes explicit that remedies available for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act include compensatory damages, including for emotional harm. The legislation ensures that victims have recourse and that incentives exist to encourage recipients of federal funds to comply with our federal civil rights laws.
“We are thrilled to see this legislation introduced to repair the harm caused by the Supreme Court’s decision limiting the availability of emotional distress damages in some civil rights cases. The bill would ensure that all victims of discrimination can get the full remedies that they are entitled to under our civil rights laws,” said Emily Martin, Vice President for Education & Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “The Clarifying Civil Right Remedies Act is especially important for victims of harassment, who many not directly lose dollars as a result of the harassment, but still suffer extreme harm.”
“Public Justice is proud to support this important legislation, which would ensure that victims of discrimination have a meaningful remedy for the emotional harm that discrimination causes,” said Adele Kimmel, Public Justice’s Students’ Civil Rights Project Director. “As advocates for students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and student survivors of sexual harassment, we know from experience that survivors of sex- and race-based harassment often suffer severe emotional harm from schools’ failure to prevent and address harassment as required by federal civil rights laws. The Clarifying Civil Rights Remedies Act would protect the availability of this crucial remedy, which courts have been awarding to discrimination victims for decades.”
“We are grateful for Senator Murray’s leadership in addressing this important issue,” said Ira Burnim of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “The Supreme Court’s decision in Cummings weakened the protections for people with disabilities in the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act. Americans with disabilities have relied for decades on the protections of these federal laws to live, work, learn, and receive health care free from discrimination. The Cummings decision limited the ability to secure money damages for the emotional distress victims of discrimination experience. The Clarifying Civil Rights Remedies Act will correct the Court’s flawed interpretation, and restore to people with disabilities and others the ability to seek compensation for all the harms they experience when they are discriminated against.”
In addition to Senators Murray and Durbin, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Baldwin, Blumenthal, Booker, Brown, Casey, Duckworth, Feinstein, Kaine, Sanders, and Whitehouse.
The legislation is endorsed by the National Women’s Law Center, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Public Justice, the Arc of the United States, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Black Justice Coalition, The Trevor Project, American Atheists, End Rape on Campus, National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Know Your IX, Just Solutions, and Japanese American Citizens League.
A one-pager on the legislation is available here.