Tens of millions of Americans live with disabilities, either physical or mental, which may limit their ability to perform certain tasks, but do not prevent them from being productive and valuable members of our communities and workplaces. Yet, many employers discriminate against employees with disabilities because of bias, ignorance, and stereotypes.
In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that in in 2021, there were 22,843 charges of disability discrimination in the United States, which represented 37.2% percent of all the charges made. In terms of the number of charges filed, disability discrimination was the most common type of discrimination alleged.
State and federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against employees with disabilities—whether physical or mental. The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act also make it illegal for employers to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations.
Hall & Lampros employment discrimination attorneys have successfully handled many disability discrimination cases, including one in which an employee who was denied leave for mental health treatment was awarded a judgment of over $622,000 after winning at trial. If you believe you have experienced disability discrimination at work, you should consult with experienced employment discrimination attorneys at Hall & Lampros, LLP to understand your rights. You can call or text 404-876-8100 or submit a confidential inquiry and an attorney will contact you right away.
Disability Discrimination Defined
Under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, a disability is defined as any one of the following:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- A record or history of such an impairment;
- Being perceived by the employer as having such an impairment;
- Being associated with someone else who has an impairment.
Employers are forbidden from discriminating against employees because of their status as a person with a disability. This includes:
- Discrimination that affects hiring, firing, recruitment, training, job assignments, promotions, benefits, pay, layoffs, leave, and other employment practices;
- Harassment of an employee on the basis of a disability;
- The use of questions about employee’s past or current medical conditions during the hiring process;
- Any requirement that employees take unnecessary medical exams
- Maintaining a workplace that includes significant physical barriers for employees with physical disabilities;
- Failure or refusal to offer reasonable accommodations that employees with physical or mental disabilities need to perform their jobs.
If any of these apply to you, do not delay—consult with a dedicated employment discrimination attorney at Hall & Lampros, LLP.
If an employee with a disability needs some help or adjustments to their job to be able to perform the “essential functions” of that job, this is referred to as “reasonable accommodation.” Employers are obligated under the law to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities.
For example, if an employee needs a leave of absence to receive treatment for cancer or another condition, the employer may be required to grant that leave. Or an employer might be required to allow an employee to sit or stand more frequently, to honor lifting restrictions, or change the employee’s schedule to accommodate a disability. The law says that an accommodation can include:
- job restructuring;
- part-time or modified work schedules;
- reassignment to a vacant position;
- ordering and using special equipment or devices;
- adjusting or modifying exams, training, or workplace rules or policies;
- providing readers or interpreters; or
- other similar accommodations.
Sometimes, employers refuse to provide reasonable accommodations, arguing that it would be an “undue hardship.” The law does allow employers to avoid certain accommodations in some cases, but the law also envisions that, once an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer should engage in an “interactive process” or dialogue to understand the employee’s request and to propose alternatives if the accommodation requested
The process of requesting and negotiating reasonable accommodations, and pursuing a charge of discrimination or lawsuit if the employer denies one, can be complicated. If you need a reasonable accommodation or you believe your employer is unfairly denying you one, you should consult with an experienced employment discrimination attorney at Hall & Lampros. You can call 404-876-8100 or submit a confidential inquiry and an attorney will respond right away.
Medical Examinations and Inquiries
It is also illegal for a prospective employer to ask you if you are disabled or to ask about the extent of your disabilities in a job interview. A prospective employer can, however, ask you if you are capable of performing the duties required by the job with or without any reasonable accommodations you may need. Additionally, a prospective employer can ask you how you will perform the tasks required for the job. While you can’t be required to take a medical exam prior to being offered a job, an employer can condition a job offer on passing a medical exam if all the following apply:
- All entering employees in the job category are required to take the medical exam.
- The exam is relevant to the job in question.
- The exam is consistent with the employer’s business needs.
Information generated by the medical exam cannot lead to the employer rejecting your employment unless the information shows you will not be able to fulfill a job requirement that is necessary for the employer to conduct business. Ultimately, the employer whose job offer was contingent upon the medical exam cannot refuse to hire you because of your disability if a reasonable accommodation would allow you to perform the essential functions of the job.
After hire, an employer is still prohibited from making medical inquiries or requiring examinations of employees either as to whether they have a disability or the extent of the disability, unless it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Some examples of permissible inquiries or examinations might fitness-for-duty examinations for law enforcement officers or return-to-duty certifications for certain employees whose health on the job is important for safety.
Remedies and Damages in Disability Discrimination Cases
What you can recover in your disability discrimination case depends on whether your case is brought under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, or both. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, as well as counties and cities and some state governments. The Rehabilitation Act applies to employers who receive federal financial assistance.
Under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, you can recover:
- Back pay, or lost wages and benefits, from the two years preceding the date you filed your charge of discrimination to the conclusion of your EEOC case or the verdict or judgment in court;
- Injunctive relief, including reinstatement or front pay for a reasonable period of time in lieu of reinstatement; and
- Attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.
Under the ADA only, you can recover:
- Compensatory damages for pain and suffering, including emotional distress damages; and
- Punitive damages to punish and deter the employer from ever treating another employee like you were treated.
The amount of compensatory and punitive damages you can recover depends on the number of employees your employer has, and are limited to:
- $50,000 for employers with between 15 and 100 employees;
- $100,000 for employers with between 101 and 200 employees;
- $200,000 for employers with between 201 and 500 employees; and
- $300,000 for employers with more than 500 employees.
An Experienced Atlanta Employment Discrimination Attorney Is on Your Side
If you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of a disability, the experienced employment law attorneys at Hall & Lampros are standing by to help. Your case is important, so please do not wait to call or text us at 404-876-8100 or submit a confidential inquiry and an attorney will contact you right away.