The ACLU of Rhode Island and Disability Rights Rhode Island today applauded Woonsocket-based CVS for withdrawing its petition in a pending U.S. Supreme Court case that the groups said could have turned back decades of national progress promoting the cause of disability rights.
The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the case, CVS v. Doe, next month. The suit was, on its face, about a relatively small issue: whether people living with HIV/AIDS could opt-out of a “mail-delivery only” program to receive their medications from CVS. But the legal issue raised by CVS in its petition attacked the very foundation of federal disability rights laws: whether, as has long been assumed, those laws protect individuals with disabilities who are adversely affected by a seemingly neutral practice or policy (i.e., policies that have a “disparate impact”), or whether, as CVS argued, the law only protects individuals from intentional discrimination.
In its petition to the Supreme Court, CVS had asked the Court to rule that so-called disparate impact cases could not be brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, one of the major federal laws protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination. Such a ruling as sought by CVS in this case would have affected an enormous range of federal regulations and policies. These include, for example, requirements for businesses to provide accessible spaces with ramps and elevators, ensuring that public transit is wheelchair accessible, and accommodating blind people so that they receive critical government benefit notices in Braille, rather than standard print.
The low-profile case had raised deep concerns in the disability community nationwide. The ACLU and numerous national disability rights group had filed “friend of the court” briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court urging rejection of CVS’ position. Yesterday, in response to the criticism and feedback it received, CVS announced it was withdrawing its appeal.
Morna Murray, executive director of Disability Rights Rhode Island, said: “This is a tremendous victory for people with disabilities and a genuine success of collaborative and effective advocacy. We applaud the hard work of our partners in the disability community in demonstrating the harm that could have resulted from pursuing this case. CVS Health is to be commended for engaging in honest dialogue with our community and doing the right thing to protect disability rights.”
Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, added: “In light of the potentially enormous damaging impact of a negative Supreme Court decision in this case, we greatly appreciate CVS’ reconsideration of its decision to pursue this appeal.”