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What Is Disability Discrimination in the Workplace?

Although the phrase “disability discrimination” immediately conjures up images in a person’s mind of verbal harassment at work, disability discrimination is often considerably more subtle. Disability cases involving verbal harassment have certainly occurred—and have been prosecuted in court—but instances of disability discrimination are often so subtle that many people don’t even notice they happened. For example, disability discrimination can occur before applicants even walk through the door for an interview. Perhaps a hiring manager notices a detail on your application that indicates you are disabled—and promptly decides to click on the next resume. Or maybe prospective employers look you up on social media and decide to forego an interview once they see that you are disabled.

Other instances of disability discrimination occur in the workplace when employees are passed up for projects or promotions due to their disabilities. In some workplaces, an employee may even be asked to take a physical exam, at which point the disability is discovered. Unfortunately, employers can be incredibly sneaky with their disability discrimination. For instance, you may notice that you no longer have access to certain parts of the building due to your disability, preventing you from participating in certain activities that may affect your advancement at the company.

Federal and state laws are in place to protect workers, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has only been in effect for less than 30 years. Even if a company has received information about the ADA, some employers may not realize that the actions they are taking are against federal law. They may be operating with an outdated business model that doesn’t consider the ADA, but this does not exempt such businesses from the law. The ADA is the law, and companies must comply with it without exception.

Who Is Protected by Disability Discrimination Law?

A myriad of conditions may qualify a person as being disabled. For instance, a person who suffers from a chronic medical condition, such as cancer that is in remission or HIV, may be considered disabled. Those with hearing, sight, or speech impairments may show their disabilities at work. People who require walking assistance are also protected by this law, as are those with learning disabilities. If you aren’t sure whether or not your particular situation is covered by this law, then talking to a disability discrimination lawyer would be incredibly helpful.

Examples in the Workplace

When thinking about your potential disability discrimination case, you may want to learn more about prior successful cases. Here are just a few examples of cases that have been settled or won in favor of the plaintiffs:

  • An employee who worked for a large retail company was banned from parking in a handicapped spot because the store manager did not view his heart disease as a disability that would require him to use the spot.
  • A fast-food worker was demoted due to his cerebral palsy.
  • Within hours of starting her job, a woman with a paralyzed arm was fired even though she was fully capable of handling the tasks she was hired to do.
  • A hotel clerk with autism was denied proper accommodations to work in his position and then was fired.
  • A deaf employee was not furnished with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter when he went to meetings about his job performance and other important issues.

In many of these cases, the plaintiffs worked for companies with very recognizable names. It’s important to note that this type of discrimination does not just take place in smaller companies; it happens in all types of businesses—from government offices to Fortune 500 companies—and it takes on a variety of forms.

The Statistics

When considering disability discrimination, it is crucial to take a good, hard look at the numbers. By comparing the disabled population to the nondisabled population, it is clear how the deck is stacked against the disabled community. For example, the unemployment rate for nondisabled people hovers around 8.7 percent, yet for disabled people, this statistic skyrockets up to 13 percent.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is that of labor force participation. Only 20 percent of people with disabilities participate in the workforce, while over 68 percent of nondisabled people do so. While we may not know all of the reasons behind this data, the numbers speak for themselves.

Should I Hire a Disability Discrimination Lawyer?

Unfortunately, disability discrimination can rear its head in any workplace in a myriad of ways. To gain a clear perspective on whether or not you have experienced this type of discrimination, you will want to contact an experienced disability discrimination lawyer for assistance. Of course, each case is individual, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to disability discrimination law. When you speak to an attorney who works in this field, you may be surprised by the incredible amount of detail and thorough research that goes into each unique case.

If you believe that you have been victimized, then it is time to talk to an employment lawyer and discuss whether or not you may have a case. Although it can at times be difficult to prove, an experienced attorney who works on these kinds of cases will be able to assess your unique situation and give a reasonable recommendation. By reaching out to an attorney as soon as you possibly can, you will give yourself the best opportunity to move forward with your life.

  • This article should only be used for informational purposes. It does not constitute legal advice, and it does not create an attorney-client relationship with anyone. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney in your community.
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When I was discriminated and denied a job for being pregnant, I was devastated, overwhelmed, mad and hurt. When I met with Mr. Lipinsky he let me know it was going to be ok, any questions or concerns he answered right away. He made me feel like a friend not just a client, someone I can talk to and would listen. He really looks for your best interest at heart. I looked around for other lawyers before finding Mr. Lipinsky, and he was the only one that trully explained everything to me in detail and spoke to me with the truth with anything and everything dealing with my case. With Mr. Lipinsky you don't only have a lawyer that will fight for what is entitled to you, but a friend that lets you know its ok and things like this happen to the best of us.

- 2011-11-11 - Avvo
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