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Can I Sue for Disability Discrimination?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants on the basis of disability. It also requires employers provide reasonable accommodations at work for employees with medical conditions affecting their ability to hear, see, walk, or engage in other daily activities. These protections extend to the application procedure as well as all aspects of employment, including hiring, compensation, advancement, training, and termination. Finally, ADA protects an employee with a disability whose employer retaliates when he or she attempts to enforce his or her rights. ADA covers private employers, government entities, labor unions, and employment agencies. If you are the victim of disability discrimination, you may file a complaint, though you must follow the appropriate process.
What is The Americans with Disabilities Act?
ADA applies to employers with at least 15 employees. Many states have their own antidiscrimination laws and these may apply to smaller employers as well. ADA prohibits discrimination against a "qualified worker with a disability." It also specifies which conditions are considered disabilities, when accommodations are required, and which employees are protected by ADA.
What is Considered a Disability?
As defined by ADA, a disability is any impairment, either physical or mental, that "substantially limits a major life activity." It goes on to define this as either basic tasks, such as walking or reading, or major bodily functions like bladder or neurological functions. If an employee's impairment does not match this definition, it is not protected under ADA. This includes temporary ailments. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) provides further information on which ailments qualify.
ADA covers qualified workers with disabilities, meaning someone capable performing of the position's essential duties with or without reasonable employer accommodations. Essential job duties are those required for the position and do not include secondary duties, such as those typically performed on a slow day, like filing.
File a Complaint with the Employer
If you explained your rights under ADA and your employer stands by its decision, filing a formal complaint with human resources or upper management is an important first step. First, it allows the employer the chance to resolve the issue. This is quicker, easier, and less expensive than filing a lawsuit. Second, your employer now knows a discrimination claim is imminent if this situation is not resolved. If the employer fails to act, proving you took this step helps your case immensely if it ever goes to trial. For example, you are unlikely to collect punitive damages if you cannot prove you gave your employer a chance to solve the problem.
File a Complaint with the EEOC
If your employer fails to act after filing a formal complaint, the next step is filing a complaint with the EEOC, and possibly the antidiscrimination agency within your state (if one exists). You cannot file a claim in court without first following this administrative process. If your state has its own disability discrimination law, you must file within 300 days of the discriminatory action. If it does not, you have 180 days to file with the EEOC.
The agency investigates the claim, reviewing evidence, as well as interviewing witnesses and your employer. It may also offer to mediate or settle your claim. After completing its review, the agency usually sends a right-to-sue letter, even if it finds no discrimination occurred.
Filing a Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
Upon receipt of your right-to-sue letter, you may file suit against your employer. Once you've filed your complaint, both sides move into the discovery phase: gathering witness statements and requesting documents and other evidence in the event the case goes to trial.
Both attorneys take depositions, which means the defense lawyer deposes you. Your attorney should accompany you to ensure all defense questions are appropriate. Both attorneys will also attempt to settle and you may attend a mediation conference to assist both parties in coming to an agreement. Typically, this agreement includes a settlement amount.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Disability Discrimination Lawyer
If you are the victim of workplace discrimination based on a disability, schedule a free consultation with an employment attorney. Employee discrimination suits are expensive and stressful, so go to this meeting prepared with a list of questions to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your case, a reasonable settlement or jury award, and the fees and costs inherent in a lawsuit.