Disability Discrimination

Discrimination is prohibited in the workplace under federal and state laws. Legally speaking, discrimination covers actions taken against employees because of their membership or perceived membership in a particular “protected class.” Treating those people differently and negatively compared with other people not in the same class is discrimination. Everyone is part of a protected class. In California, the protected classes include: age, AIDS or HIV-positive status, marital status, domestic partnership, medical condition and genetic characteristics, race or national origin/ancestry, pregnancy, religion, gender or sexual orientation, harassment, and name change.

There are significant protections for employees with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as other federal and state statutes. Not only is an employer required to avoid disability discrimination, but they must also provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment in the workplace that helps a disabled person with the conditions of their employment. It is important to note that an accommodation does not have to be made if it will cause undue hardship to the employer.

If an employer treats an employee with a disability or a history of a disability unfavorably, then it is considered disability discrimination. Furthermore, if an employee is mistreated because of their relationship with someone who is disabled, it is also considered disability discrimination, and is protected under the law. Essentially, it is illegal to discriminate within any aspect of employment, which includes hiring, training, job assignments, and firing. It is also illegal to harass an employee who is currently disabled, has a history of disability, or is believed to have a physical or mental condition that is short-term or minor. The harassment has to be frequent and severe in order to be considered illegal, however. Simple teasing is not covered by the law.

In a recent case, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued the Scooter Store for disability discrimination. The Scooter Store, a Texas-based retailer that serves people with limited mobility, allegedly fired an employee because of their request for a temporary medical leave. The employee had a knee injury resulting from psoriatic arthritis, which was incapacitating and required treatment. The Americans with Disabilities Act was violated because the disabled employee was denied a leave request and then let go. Elizabeth Grossman, an EEOC attorney, pointed out that, “Employers are obligated to engage in an interactive process with employees and provide reasonable accommodations for their disabilities.”