Title I of the ADA prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against “qualified individuals with disabilities” on the basis of their disability in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, retention, pay, and benefits. An individual with a disability is defined as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having a disability. Generally speaking, Title I of the ADA protects individuals with impairments that limit major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, or performing manual tasks. An individual with a record of a disability, such as a person who has recovered from cancer, may also be protected under the ADA, as well as an individual who is regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment. For example, someone with a severe facial disfigurement who is denied employment due to the employer’s fear of “negative reactions” to the disfigurement may have a cause of action under the ADA.
A person must also be “qualified” for the position held or sought in order to fall under the ADA’s protections. A “qualified” individual meets the legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position, and can perform the essential functions of the position with or without “reasonable accommodations.” A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that would enable a qualified individual apply for a job, or perform essential job functions. Whether an accommodation is considered “reasonable” varies on the facts of each case, but some examples may include providing qualified reader or interpreters, modifying work schedules, acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, job restructuring, or making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. An employer is not required to lower production standards to make an accommodation, and generally is not obligated to provide personal use items such as eyeglasses or hearing aids. An employer also is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation if doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer, which means that the action would require significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to factors such as a business’ size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation. It is also important to note that an employer’s duty to provide a reasonable accommodation is not triggered until an individual with a disability requests the accommodation.
An employee who feels they have been discriminated against on the basis of their disability must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, commonly known as the EEOC, within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. It is very important that a victim of disability discrimination maintain all communications regarding their claim, including written accommodation requests.
We believe that everyone is entitled to equal access to the work place, regardless of their disability status. If you believe you have been discriminated against, please feel free to contact one of our experienced attorneys to discuss your potential claim.