The Philadelphia Project


Judge Baylson’s Decision Expands the Definition of Intentional Discrimination

R.P. is a fifteen-year-old with ADHD in the School District of Philadelphia who has been denied a free appropriate public education suitable to his needs. Despite the fact that R.P. was diagnosed with ADHD in 2003, the District did not acknowledge the diagnosis until 2005, at which point they said he was not eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act because he did not have a disability. In 2007, after behavioral problems, R.P.’s mother entered into an agreement with the District which provided R.P. with some accommodations, but the District failed to inform her of her rights to challenge the plan. In 2009 R.P.’s mother informed the District that she was dissatisfied with the educational services being provided, prompting a Reevaluation Report that acknowledged that R.P. was eligible for special education services. He was given an Individualized Education Plan under a signed settlement in July of 2009, but still received no special education services. The plaintiff thus brought claims against the District for violation of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The District filed a motion to dismiss claims made under Section 504 and the ADA, arguing that R.P. does not qualify as an individual with a disability under the ADA and is not eligible for the monetary claims associated with Section 504 because the discrimination was not intentional. Judge Baylson denied the District’s motion to dismiss, and set important new precedent by clarifying the definition of intentional discrimination and its application in the school setting. In previous cases, circuit courts have determined that a plaintiff must establish that the discrimination was intentional to recover monetary damages. Although Judge Baylson agreed with this, he clarified that the definition of intentional discrimination includes “an inference of deliberate indifference”, such as the District’s lack of action in addressing R.P.’s disability, despite being aware of it for years. The decision is an important victory for R.P. and for other children, as Districts are held more accountable for identifiying and meeting the needs of students with disabilities.