Understanding the Most Important Terms of Disability Discrimination Law

October 16, 2018

Disability discrimination can be a complicated subject to understand. The terminology can get complicated and difficult to understand. Nonetheless, the most important tool an employee can have is an understanding of these essential terms in order to protect themselves in the workplace.

The purpose of this post is to provide a better explanation of these essential terms in order for the employee to get a better understanding.

Disability Discrimination Law: Title VII and the ADA

The main sources of law that provide disabled employees with protection in the workplace are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Title VII is a federal law that applies to employers with 15 or more employees.  Title VII makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against their employees  for a number of different categories, including disability. Nonetheless, it is important to understand what constitutes a disability. . For an employee to receive protection under the ADA, the employee must:

  1. Be qualified for the job or able to perform the functions of the job
  2. Have a disability as defined by statute.

According to the ADA, someone has a disability if they meet the following criteria:

  1. He/she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity such as talking, walking, hearing, seeing, learning or vital bodily functions such as the cardiovascular system, immune system and normal cell growth.
  2. He/she has a history of mental or physical conditions or impairments such as cancer
  3. He/she has a mental or physical condition that is not transitory or minor.

ADA Americans Act (ADAAA)

In 2008, the ADA amendments act was passed that provided several amendments to the ADA. Most importantly, it expanded the definition of “disability” and describes what type of disabilities are covered. The passage of the ADAAA further requires courts to construe the definition of disability as broadly as possible.

Nonetheless, it can be difficult to determine what a major life activity is? And when something is being substantially limited.

What is a Major Life Activity?

An extremely important phrase in disability discrimination law is a “major life activity.” The term defines the parameters of what constitutes a disability. The ADAAA provided a non-exclusive list  of what falls within the category of major life activity, including: talking, walking, hearing, seeing, learning or vital bodily functions such as the  cardiovascular system, immune system and normal cell growth.

The term “major life activity” also includes caring for one oneself and maintaining bodily functions including body systems function like the operation of one’s immune system.

Substantially Limits

Under the law, a disability is a substantially limiting when it has a significant or major effect on one or more major life activities. Nonetheless, the effect does not need to be severe or prevent the life activity from happening. Once again, the ADAAA directs the courts to broadly construe this phrase. The ADAAA has lowered the bar as to when an injury or condition is substantially limiting a major life activity.

Perceived Disability

An interesting aspect of disability of law is that of a perceived disability. Even if an employee does not currently have a disability or does not have a history of disability, they may still be able to make a disability discrimination claim.

The law provides protection to employees when an employer thinks that the employee is suffering from a disability and treats them as such. In such situations, an employee experiences discrimination based on the fact that the employer believes he or she is disabled due to an impairment the employer believes the employee has. In this situation, the employee does not need to actually suffer from a disability, they just need to show that their employer believed they had a disability and discriminated against them on the basis of that incorrect belief.

Reasonable Accommodations

Title VII and the ADA also manded an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees that suffer from disabilities. The only time an employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation is when doing so would cause the business undue hardship. An accommodation is deemed to cause undue hardship when it causes the employer significant difficulty or expense. Therefore, an employer cannot escape their duty to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation just because it may be difficult to provide.

Disability Discrimination Charge

If an employee feels as though they are being discriminated against because of their disability, an employee must file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will conduct an investigation and determine whether there is reasonable cause to pursue a claim against the employer. If the EEOC decides to move forward, they will provide the employee with a Right to Sue Notice. This will allow the employee to file a suit against their employer with proper representation.

If an employee feels that they are being subjected to any form of discrimination on the basis of their disability, they should consult with an attorney who is experienced in labor law immediately. The laws governing harassment and discrimination are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights, and seek justice.  Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.