What laws cover disability discrimination at work?
Disability discrimination remains a persistent problem in many workplaces. An important federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. Likewise, many states and local municipalities have laws that make disability discrimination unlawful as well. A separate law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, covers employees who work for the federal government. It is important to consult with an experienced disability discrimination lawyer to understand your legal options.
How do I prove disability discrimination at my job?
It is illegal for an employer to treat a qualified individual who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because they have a disability.
Also, if an employer treats an applicant or employee less favorably because they have a history of a disability (such as a past serious illness), or because they are believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is long lasting and more than minor, then this too may be unlawful.
An employer must provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer (“undue hardship”).
The ADA also protects people who do not have a disability from “associational discrimination” based on their relationship with a person with a disability. For example, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee because their spouse has a disability.
- the employer is subject to the ADA;
- the employee is disabled as defined by the ADA, has a record of impairment, or is perceived to be so by the employer;
- the employee is able to perform essential functions of the job, either with or without reasonable accommodation; and
- the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee because of, in whole or in part, the employee’s protected disability.
The ADA and the EEOC’s interpretation of it require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and job applicants with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
According to the EEOC, a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.
Reasonable accommodation might include, for example, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired.
What remedies are available for disability discrimination?
- Back pay damages for wages lost due to the harassment
- emotional distress damages (also referred to as compensatory damages)
- punitive damages designed to punish the employer for especially reckless or malicious harassment.
- Reasonable attorney’s fees
Which Employers Are Covered Under the ADA?
A “covered entity” under the ADA means “an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee.” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(2). An “employer” is “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(A).
The ADA does not authorize claims against individuals, i.e., individual defendants do not qualify as covered “employers.”
What is a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Under the ADA, a disability is defined as: “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).”
Major life activities include:
- caring for oneself,
- performing manual tasks,
- learning, and
“Substantially limits” means “[s]ignificantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ii) (2000).
Related articles and interviews by Bachman Law
Bachman Law routinely represents executives and senior managers in disability / ADA discrimination cases. Likewise, Bachman law frequently writes, and is quoted about, disability / ADA discrimination by various media outlets, including:
- How the ADA and FMLA intersect and why this is important for employees
- Massive $125 million verdict in disability discrimination case against Walmart
- ADA “perceived as disabled” lawsuits
- Emotional distress damages in ADA and employment discrimination cases
For more information, see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page that answers many common questions in plain English.
It is important to speak with a disability discrimination lawyer to maximize your potential damages. If you have experienced workplace discrimination or whistleblower retaliation, call us at (202) 769-1681, or start your preliminary consultation online.
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