Disability Discrimination: Recognize and Fight for Your Employee Rights

Project Description

Disability Discrimination Lawyers

Overcoming the bias and stigma associated with a disability or handicap in the workplace presents an increasingly difficult challenge. Although certain laws outline regulations and protections for workers with disabilities, employees continue to experience disability discrimination. The key is recognizing the comments and actions that prove disability discrimination and then knowing the next steps to pursue your employee rights under the law.

Should disability discrimination occur, you may want to consult a lawyer. The law only allows a small window of time to file a complaint of disability discrimination against your employer, and it’s crucial to do it right the first time. Call a lawyer today.

Call Pittsburgh at
(412) 626-5626
Call Philadelphia at
(215) 618-9185
Email KM&A at

Recognize Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Part of the reason you may not recognize discrimination is that you don’t know what the law defines as a disability in the workplace or you don’t know what actions and comments might be considered discriminatory. To receive the full benefits of the law, spotting discrimination related to disability is imperative. Disability discrimination lawyers can help you pursue those employee rights when you have a legitimate case of employment discrimination.

Qualified Worker: Are You Qualified for Your Job Position?

You must also be qualified for your position with your employer. A qualified individual is an individual with a disability who satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the position held or desired by the individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position.

Legal Definition of Disability

The legal definition of disability originates from the laws that protect the rights of workers with disabilities. In Pennsylvania, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) outline the requirements to be eligible for legal protection as well as the benefits offered to eligible individuals. A good disability discrimination lawyer will know if you meet the standard for a disability in the context of these laws.

The precise language of these laws requires that you:

  • have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity with or without the use of mitigating measures such as medications, wheelchairs, etc.,
  • have a record of such impairment, or
  • be regarded, or perceived, by your employer as having an impairment.

If you meet the above standard for a disability, you may be protected by ADA and PHRA disability discrimination laws.

Employment Disability Discrimination Identification Chart

Physical Impairment A physical impairment is any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems:

  • Musculoskeletal or special sense organs
  • Neurological
  • Respiratory (including speech organs)
  • Cardiovascular
  • Reproductive
  • Digestive
  • Genitourinary
  • Hemic and lymphatic
  • Skin
  • Endocrine

Mental Impairment

A mental impairment is any mental or psychological disorder, including:

  • Mental retardation
  • Organic brain syndrome
  • Emotional illness
  • Mental illness
  • Specific learning disabilities
Major Life Activities

  • Caring for oneself
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Sitting
  • Reaching
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Interacting with others
  • Working
  • Etc.

Is My Impairment “Substantially Limiting”?

To find out if you’re eligible for legal protections, you must determine if courts will recognize your impairment as “substantially limiting” to at least one major life activity. In some cases, obesity is considered a “substantially limiting” disability as well. A person who has a disability who meets the below requirements is eligible for protections from disability discrimination.

Impairment is substantially limiting if it renders a person:

  1. Unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform; or
  2. Significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which he or she can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity.

Special Note: “Regarded as Having a Disability”

Courts have held that if an employer mistakenly believes that its employee has an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, even though he or she actually does not, is sufficient to establish a “regarded as disabled” case.

  • The Supreme Court of the United States has explained that “a person is ‘regarded as’ disabled within the meaning of the ADA if a covered entity mistakenly believes that the person’s actual, non-limiting impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Thus, “[a]n employer runs afoul of the ADA when it makes an employment decision based on a physical or mental impairment, real or imagined, that is regarded as substantially limiting a major life activity.”
  • Employers run afoul of the ADA when they mistakenly make assumptions about an employee’s medical conditions or symptoms. “A person is regarded as disabled when “(1) a covered entity mistakenly believes that a person has a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or (2) a covered entity mistakenly believes that an actual, non-limiting impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities.” In creating this category of disability, the Court asserted that Congress recognized that “society’s accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that flow from actual impairment.”

Common Forms of Discrimination

The law is clear that employers cannot discriminate against employees of legally protected classes in any of the below employment areas. To do so is risk lawsuit. Veterans with disabilities also receive protections from ADA, USERRA, and other laws. As an employee with a disability, if you experience discrimination in any of the below situations due to your disability, you may have a case.

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Compensation
  • Inferior assignments
  • Lower grade employee status
  • Transfers
  • Promotion
  • Layoffs
  • Recalling
  • Recruitment
  • Lower employment testing scores
  • Company facilities
  • Training and apprenticeship programs
  • Fringe benefits
  • Retirement plans
  • Refused disability leave
  • Tenure
  • Harassment

It is ILLEGAL for employers to discriminate against you in any aspect of above areas. Therefore, when you recognize that you’ve faced discrimination, you must take steps to fight for your employee rights.

Fight for Your Employee Rights

Once you’ve determined that you have a disability based on the legal definition outlined by the ADA and PHRA, you may be able to request reasonable accommodation, file a complaint against your employer, and pursue a lawsuit. The law sets out standards for how to pursue your employee rights. You may want to speak with a lawyer to ensure that you receive full damages for the disability discrimination you experienced.

Reasonable Accommodation

Employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” for an employee with a disability. Where a reasonable accommodation is sought, the employer has an obligation to engage in an “interactive process” of determining what accommodations can and should be made. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment an employer makes so that an employee with a disability can perform the essential functions of the job.

Possible Types of Reasonable Accommodation:

  • Allowing the employee to telecommute.
  • Modifying equipment or facilities.
  • Adjusting the employee’s work schedule or job structure.
  • Reassigning the employee to another available position.
  • Restructuring the position.

File a Disability Discrimination Complaint

When your employer continues to discriminate against you due to your disability and fails to take steps to conduct the “interactive process” for a reasonable accommodation, you should file a complaint. In Pennsylvania, you can dual file the complaint under state and federal law to leave your options open for future lawsuit. Complaints must be filed within a certain time period.

If you believe that you’ve experienced disability discrimination, a lawyer can help you determine the best steps for your situation. In many situations, a lawyer can take on the responsibility of the paperwork and all other details surrounding your employment issue.

Ten Most Common Disability Claims

  1. Back or spinal injuries account for 19.1% of ADA charges. The accommodation most often required for employees with back and spinal injuries is lifting limitations.
  2. Psychiatric and/or mental disability account for 11.7% of the ADA claims and include impairments such as depression, psychological problems, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome and bipolar disorder\manic depression.
  3. Neurological impairments account for 11% of ADA claims. Epilepsy, severe migraine headaches, and nervous system disorders are examples of neurological impairments.
  4. Extremity impairments account for 8.1% of ADA charges. Hand and leg impairments and carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”) are included in this category of impairments.
  5. Heart-related impairment are 4.4% of all ADA claims. When an individual has a heart defect, the accommodation most often required includes restrictions on lifting and strenuous activity.
  6. Substance abuse accounts for 3.5% of all ADA claims. Substance abuse refers to both alcohol and drug abuse for ADA purposes.
  7. Diabetes claims account for 3% of all ADA claims. Diabetes is an impairment specifically listed in the legislative history of the ADA as constituting a physical impairment.
  8. Hearing impairments constitute 3% of ADA claims and include complete deafness and significant hearing loss.
  9. Vision impairments account for 2.8% of ADA claims. Vision impairments include total blindness and serious vision problems. Accommodations may range from providing reading assistants to purchasing certain equipment.
  10. Blood disorders, including hepatitis, make up 2.6% of ADA claims.

Disability Discrimination Damages

Many times when an employee sues an employer for disability discrimination, the employee stands to receive a certain amount of money for the damage experienced by the discrimination. For every case, the amount and type of damages differ. Below is a list of possible damages that your employer may owe you.

  • Back pay
  • Front pay
  • Differences in pay between your current pay and the pay you could have received if your employer did not illegally discriminate against you
  • Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest on the back pay awards
  • Compensatory damages (i.e. pain and suffering or mental anguish)
  • Punitive damages (meant to punish the employer for intentional disability discrimination)
  • Attorneys’ fees and court costs
  • Employees may also obtain injunctive relief, such as reinstatement of their job, in appropriate circumstances

Benefits of an Attorney

Discrimination cases are often difficult and complex. Each case requires a careful, focused, and thorough evaluation best conducted by a competent attorney who practices employment law. Depending on the particular facts of your situation and your specific goals, we will work with you to negotiate with your employer, file a Charge of Discrimination with the appropriate federal, state or local agency, and represent you in court.

Call us at 412-626-5626 or email us at lawyer@lawkm.com.

Kraemer, Manes & Associates LLC “KM&A” is a law firm serving all of Pennsylvania with our principal offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Call KM&A in western Pennsylvania at 412-626-5626 or in eastern Pennsylvania at 215-618-9185. KM&A can be reached by email at lawyer@lawkm.com.

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