Discrimination in the workplace comes in many different forms and can be based on someone’s race, national origin, color, sex, religion, age, and disability. There are other populations that are targets of workplace discrimination as well.
Disability discrimination is when a worker is treated differently due to his or her disability, a perceived disability, or the association with another disabled person. If a disabled person is fired based on his or her disability, this may be a case of wrongful termination. This kind of termination is considered to be an illegal action, and the employer could be liable for any damages incurred by the employee. There are many laws in place to protect disabled individuals from this kind of mistreatment.
How are Disabilities Classified?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that severely inhibits the ability to perform daily tasks. The disability must limit the person from doing certain tasks, such as working, communicating, walking, and other daily-life activities. Depending on the number of employees, the employer is bound by law to provide reasonable accommodations and time off from work for disabled workers in certain situations.
What are the Federal Discrimination Laws?
The ADA is a federal law that was enacted to protect job applicants and employees who have disabilities from workplace discrimination. This act applies to private companies that employ 15 or more people. Individuals employed by smaller businesses may be covered by the state’s own disability discrimination laws. The ADA requires companies to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations so that they can perform their job responsibilities.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health conditions. However, FMLA is only for companies with 50 or more employees. Applicants must also meet specific requirements to qualify, such as being in the company for at least one year.
The federal Rehabilitation Act applies to programs administered by federal agencies, programs, contractors, and employers. This act also prohibits employment discrimination based on a worker’s disability. There are other federal laws that disallow this type of discrimination as well, including the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.
Discrimination Laws in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees in any way that is job-related, including the following:
- Compensation and terms
- Conditions and privileges of employment
There are more than 15 protected categories. The NJLAD also specifies that it applies to intentional discrimination that is based on any of these factors.
What are Common Examples of Disability Discrimination?
Disability discrimination can be very obvious or more subtle, and an employee may not even realize that he or she is being treated differently. When a supervisor refuses to provide wheelchair-bound employee with a ramp to get into the office, that is a clear example of not having a reasonable accommodation.
Other examples including the workplace having significant physical barriers that prevent disabled employees from moving around the building or not providing closed-captioning for employees who need it to attend meetings. Disabled employees may also be harassed and verbally abused at their workplaces.
A less obvious example could be a job interview, where the interviewer asks a disabled applicant a series of questions about his or her current and past medical history. Requiring the applicant to undergo a medical exam is another example. Being passed over for a well-deserved promotion is yet another form of subtle workplace discrimination.
What Do I Do if I am Wrongfully Terminated?
When a disabled person believes he or she has been wrongfully terminated because of a disability, pursuing a course of legal action may be warranted. Employers often try to show that the disabled person was fired for his or her work performance or another reason, so taking the proper steps and having the appropriate documentation is essential.
The first step in filing a wrongful termination suit is to file an administrative charge of discrimination with the proper government agency. The charge needs to describe exactly what the employer did and why the employee feels that those actions were discriminatory. The agency will then reach out to the company about the charge. They may mediate, investigate, or attempt to settle the issue. In very rare cases, the agency might wish to sue the company on the employee’s behalf.
How Do I File a Discrimination Charge?
A discrimination charge can be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal government agency responsible for enforcing ADA regulations. Some employees can file with state fair employment practice agencies instead.
Employees have 180 or 300 days to file the charge after the alleged discrimination occurred. Another option for employees wishing to file lawsuits as soon as possible is to request a right to sue letter from the EEOC or a state agency. This is used when the employee has already filed the administrative charge and is ready to proceed with filing a lawsuit. Once the right to sue letter is received, the employee has only 90 days to file.
How Do I Gather Evidence?
Evidence of discrimination is an important tool for building a case. Plaintiffs can keep in mind that as long as the disability does not cost the company unreasonable, additional expenses, they are entitled to keep their jobs.
The evidence can be considered medical and non-medical, and a qualified wrongful termination lawyer can help with this. The worker should obtain a written medical report from a physician that details the disability, the employee’s medical history, and any other pertinent information.
Non-medical proof of the wrongful termination can include statements from family members, colleagues, and any other people who are familiar with the employee’s disability. Photographs of the lack of workplace accommodations can also be helpful. A common type way of providing evidence is showing that other employees who acted the same way were not fired, but the disabled employee was terminated.
What Strategies Can a Lawyer Use?
It is unusual for a company to admit that they had acted illegally since it is widely known that employees can not be treated differently based on disabilities. It could be the employee’s word against a manager, and so these types of cases often rely on circumstantial evidence.
A wrongful termination lawyer can help a disabled employee show that the employer failed to follow anti-discrimination policies or policies that applied to alleged misconduct investigations.
If the employee had filed a complaint with the Human Resources Department but the concerns were dismissed, this could be useful if well-documented. Some of the most important things for employees to do in these cases is to be honest about the events that occurred, understand their rights, and have the appropriate documentation to back up their claims.
Can I Obtain Compensation?
Compensation in wrongful termination cases vary and depends on the individual facts, federal, and state laws. Plaintiffs who win disability discrimination lawsuits may be entitled to get their jobs back, although this could result in an awkward situation or not be possible if a lot of time has passed.
Monetary damages can include back pay for time missed from work and benefits. Some individuals also receive front pay, which is to compensate for the future time period when he or she is unemployed and searching for a new job. Attorney fees and additional costs incurred by the lawsuit may also be reimbursed.
Other categories of damages are emotional distress from the firing, discrimination, and punitive damages. The latter is intended to punish defendants for breaking the law and is only awarded in specific circumstances. There are federal limits that regulate how much a plaintiff can receive in damages for out-of-pocket losses, emotional distress, and punitive damages. For these reasons, it is important to contact a lawyer immediately who will explain your rights and help you with your discrimination case.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Fight for Wrongfully Terminated Disabled Workers
You have the right to equal treatment in your workplace, but not all employees recognize this. For trusted, compassionate guidance with any type of discrimination case, contact one of our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. today. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.