SCOTUS: Deaf-Blind Woman Cannot Get Emotional-Distress damages

Jane Cummings sued a Texas physical therapy service for failing to provide her with an ASL interpreter in 2016 but the Supreme Court decided she could not get damages in this type of case.

When she was denied an interpreter by Premier Rehab, she then went to another physical therapy provider for her chronic back pain, but got poor service.


The ruling was 6-3 with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority. He said the decision was based on the fact that the anti-discrimination statutes, the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act, do not indicate whether such damages should be available or not. Justice Stephen Breyer penned a dissent in which he wrote:

The Court’s decision today allows victims of discrimination to recover damages only if they can prove that they have suffered economic harm, even though the primary harm inflicted by discrimination is rarely economic. Indeed, victims of intentional discrimination may sometimes suffer profound emotional injury without any attendant pecuniary harms. The Court’s decision today will leave those victims with no remedy at all.

Civil-rights groups, disability organizations, and scholars had supported Cummings, who has been deaf from birth and is legally blind.


The case is Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller.