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Law School Case Brief

Se. Cmty. Coll. v. Davis - 442 U.S. 397, 99 S. Ct. 2361 (1979)


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, codified at 29 U.S.C.S. § 794, by its terms does not compel educational institutions to disregard the disabilities of handicapped individuals or to make substantial modifications in their programs to allow disabled persons to participate. Instead, it requires only that an otherwise qualified handicapped individual not be excluded from participation in a federally funded program solely by reason of his handicap, indicating only that mere possession of a handicap is not a permissible ground for assuming an inability to function in a particular context.


The student, who had a serious hearing disability, sought to be trained as a registered nurse and enrolled at the college. She was not admitted to the nursing program because the college determined that she would not be able to participate safely in the normal training program. The student filed suit, claiming the college had violated § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, codified at 29 U.S.C.S. § 794. The said Act prohibited discrimination against an “otherwise qualified handicapped individual” in federally funded programs “solely by reason of his handicap." The trial court found in favor of the college, holding that the student’s handicap prevented her from safely performing in both her training program and her proposed profession. On this basis, the court held that the student was not an "otherwise qualified handicapped individual" protected by § 504 and that the decision to exclude her was not discriminatory within the meaning of § 504. Although not disputing the District Court's fact-findings, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that in light of intervening regulations of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), § 504 required the college to reconsider the student’s application for admission without regard to her hearing ability, and that in determining whether the student was "otherwise qualified," the college must confine its inquiry to her "academic and technical qualifications." The Court of Appeals also suggested that § 504 required "affirmative conduct" by the college to modify its program to accommodate the disabilities of applicants. The college sought certiorari review by the United States Supreme Court.


Did the college violate § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by refusing to admit the student, who had serious hearing disability?




The Court held that there was no violation of § 504 when the college concluded that the student did not qualify for admission to its program. According to the Court, nothing in the language or history of § 504 limited the freedom of an educational institution to require reasonable physical qualifications for admission to a clinical training program. Nor has there been any showing in this case that any action short of a substantial change in the college’s program would render unreasonable the qualifications it imposed.

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