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Disability Discrimination


Disability discrimination law is complex and requires comprehensive knowledge of both federal and state laws, as well as procedural and administrative guidelines. Many employees and employers are unaware of what actually counts as a disability or a discriminatory act against the disabled. Understanding the inner workings of disability discrimination can help you to preserve your rights and prepare you for a legal case, should that be necessary. If you are an employee with a disability, we encourage you to keep reading to learn about disability discrimination.

What Is Disability Discrimination?

It is important to know your rights as an employee and your responsibilities as an employer. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits discrimination against an employee “on the basis of” a disability. Many employees think that disability discrimination laws only cover a few specific disabilities, but the definition of “disability” is actually quite broad.

Some examples of actions that may constitute disability discrimination include: (1) separating or classifying a disabled employee or applicant in a way that adversely affects that employee’s opportunities at work; (2) placing a new employee with a disability on probation without imposing that requirement for all other new hires; (3) requiring employment qualifications or other selection criteria designed to point out disabled applicants; (4) failing to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled person; or (5) refusing to hire or terminating an employee whose spouse has cancer or other ailments because the employer is concerned that they might miss work to care for their spouse.

The law forbids discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment

What the Law Has to Say About Disability Discrimination

Most laws pertaining to disabilities and discrimination in the workplace come from the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). In California, these protections stem from FEHA, which protects employees and applicants from discrimination due to a physical or mental disability. FEHA essentially provides that an employer may not use a disability as a reason for making any adverse job decisions, including hiring, denial of employee benefits, and denial of promotions. The laws only apply to employers who have at least 5 employees.

Disability discrimination laws hold that employers cannot fire, demote, mistreat, or refuse to hire someone with a physical or mental disability as long as the person is capable of performing the essential functions of their position either with or without reasonable accommodation. Furthermore, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations if an employee has a disability or if one arises during the course of their employment. Any employer who breaks these regulations can be subject to various civil penalties and damages. The legal definition of a disability is quite broad, defined as a condition or injury that limits a major life activity. The following are several protected disabilities:

  • A physical or mental impairment that greatly limits your ability to do major life activities, including walking, hearing, breathing, seeing, learning, speaking, or other basic bodily functions;
  • A permanent or temporary medical condition;
  • Medical history of conditions that may cause impairment, such as diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, ADHD, or epilepsy; and
  • Temporary physical or mental impairment.

Examples of Disability Discrimination

Since the definition of discrimination against the disabled is so broad, it is difficult to list all the possible ways an employer might display discriminatory actions. Here are just a few examples of common situations that involve discrimination:

  • Firing an employee after they become disabled;
  • Offering a job to a person and then rescinding the offer after the employer realizes the person is disabled;
  • Refusing to offer basic and reasonable accommodations for the employee’s medical needs or disability;
  • Not providing the employee with a disability the same bonuses, raises, or pay as non-disabled co-workers in the same or similar position; and
  • Not offering an employee with a disability the same chances for promotion as other employees, such as work opportunities and training classes.

How Employers Can Avoid Disability Discrimination

Employers who want to avoid discrimination against disabled employees need to ensure that they offer disabled employees the same opportunities and benefits as those without disabilities. They cannot allow an employee’s disability to influence their hiring, firing, promoting, or other decisions. They should work with a disabled employee to accommodate their working environment.

According to our disability discrimination lawyers in Los Angeles, one of the most important things that employers in California need to do after being informed of an employee’s disability is to engage in interactive process with that employee. This involves working with the disabled employee to find ways to reasonably accommodate their disability and needs. Generally, a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment (or in the way the employer carries out its business) to assist a disabled employee with applying for a job, performing job duties, or enjoying the benefits and privileges of employment.

An employer does not have to satisfy every single request for accommodation nor do they have to provide an accommodation if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. However, that is a tricky determination which is best suited for an experienced disability discrimination lawyer in Los Angeles to evaluate.

Some reasonable accommodations for people with a disability include:

  • Medical leave without being fired or retaliation
  • eassignment to another available position
  • Interpreters or other types of assistance
  • The option of working from home
  • Modified equipment that accommodates the disability
  • An accessible workplace and
  • Providing a reader for someone who is blind.

Legal Consequences for Discriminating

Discriminating against an employee can result in many costly consequences. There are stiff legal penalties levied against those who violate the FEHA and ADA..

In addition, the individual supervisor who discriminates may also end up as a defendant in a lawsuit as well as the employer. Losing a discrimination lawsuit may result in an employer having to pay large sums to the employee as compensation for their discriminatory actions. The types of damages that an employer may be subject to include:

  • The employee’s attorney fees and costs
  • Punitive damages
  • Damages for pain and suffering
  • Wages, including both front and back pay the employee lost due to the discrimination and
  • Out of pocket costs the employee incurred due to lack of benefits.

How to File a Disability Discrimination Complaint

The first step in dealing with a disability discrimination issue is notifying the employer. Doing so puts the company on notice of the issue at hand and provides them with the opportunity to correct or accommodate the disabled employee. Many individuals who have been discriminated against wish to jump straight into a lawsuit, but it is actually best to alert the company first. Filing an internal complaint shows that you attempted to resolve the situation but were ignored or subsequently mistreated by the company.

After a company has failed or refused to correct the problem, it is time to speak to an employment discrimination lawyer.

How to Handle Disability Discrimination Lawsuits

You have one year from the date of termination or other wrongful employment action to file your lawsuit, so it is important to get started on your case as soon as possible. A good disability discrimination attorney will handle this for you.

As the plaintiff in a lawsuit, you will need to show that the discrimination occurred. This may require evidence such as:

  • Medical records or testimony from a doctor to prove you are disabled
  • A timeline of any discriminatory actions you encountered and any formal complaints you filed
  • Copies of emails or texts that involve your employer discussing your disability with you or you notifying your employer of your disability
  • Information about the wages and advancement opportunities provided to your coworkers without disabilities and
  • Any other documents that may show you’re being treated differently in the workplace.

The maximum damages you might receive will depend on a multitude of factors. These can include the size of the employer, your position, and the degree and nature of the discrimination. An experienced disability discrimination attorney will know what to look for and guide you through the process. Many courts may also award emotional distress damages or punitive damages if the employer engaged in fraudulent or malicious conduct.

What Should You Do About Disability Discrimination?

There are many available options if you are in a situation where you suspect disability discrimination is occurring. You should take steps to ensure that the discrimination stops and hold your employer accountable for the unlawful acts.

If you need a qualified disability discrimination lawyer in Los Angeles or throughout California, look no further than West Coast Trial Lawyers. Our dedicated team has extensive knowledge of the laws and regulations pertaining to disability discrimination. We will help you protect your right to work in a discrimination-free environment and assist you through every step of the way. To set up a free consultation and learn more about how we can support you with your disability discrimination claims, call (888) 888-9285 or email info@westcoasttriallawyers.com.



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