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Disability Discrimination: More Common Than You Think

It is hard to believe in this age that people would discriminate against people with disabilities, but it happens more often than you’d expect. Like so many forms of discrimination, it’s not the name calling and firing that are the norm. It’s the more subtle ways that people are discriminated against in the workplace that are most common.

If you don’t know what to look for, it could be happening to you.

What Is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination is the unfavorable treatment of an employee or job candidate with a disability (as compared to other employees). Like other employment discrimination, it’s not only “bad” treatment but unfair treatment that is unlawful, including failing to make a “reasonable” accommodation for an employee who needs one.

For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed a suit against Greektown Casino for failing to make a reasonable accommodation for one iof its employees. In the suit, a pit manager was hospitalized for anxiety stress disorder and requested a leave extension. The casino fired him instead. The EEOC has alleged that a short leave extension would be a reasonable accommodation and the failure to grant that extension is a violation of the  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In a similar action arising in Florida, Walker v. Chipola, the Federal Court found that leave is sometimes a reasonable accommodation under the ADA even if the leave exceeds that period of time which the employer is obligated to grant under the Family & Medical Leave Act (12 weeks).  

But the discriminatory actions of the employer need not involve a termination. It can involve creating or allowing a hostile work environment to persist or passing someone over for a job or special assignment. It can also involve not making reasonable accommodations for something like a service dog.

It’s important to know that it is not unlawful to behave favorably to a person with a disability. For instance, an employer may give special attention or opportunities to an employee or candidate with a disability including extending deadlines past what is given to employees without disabilities.

The Disability Discrimination Law Protects More Than You Think

Most people think of employees in wheelchairs and accommodations under the ADA but disability discrimination law is much more encompassing than that. In 2010, the Equality Act was passed and it protects against discrimination based on having a disability but also:

  • From someone thinking you have a disability
  • Being associated with someone with a disability

A disability can be a mental or physical condition or a progressive illness such as multiple sclerosis, HIV, or cancer. You do not have to be currently “disabled” by the condition to be protected. For instance, if someone at work discovered you had cancer even if you are not currently under treatment that requires missing work, if your employer passes you over for a project because s/he assumes you “have enough to handle,” that is illegal. It is also illegal if they pass you over because your son has cancer.

Disability discrimination extends way beyond a building not having ramps or enough designated parking spaces. Any unfair treatment based on a physical or mental condition, as well as a progressive illness, may be illegal. The best way to know for sure is to consult an employment attorney. At Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. we believe the protections of the law should be accessible to everyone that’s why we offer a free first-time consultation.

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