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What is a disability discrimination lawyer?

Find out what a disability discrimination lawyer is and how they can help individuals who face discrimination due to a disability.

evident Editorial Team
December 1, 2023
Man in wheelchair

A disability discrimination lawyer, also known as a disability discrimination attorney, is a legal professional specializing in cases related to disability discrimination in the workplace. These lawyers understand the intricacies of the Americans with Disabilities Act, state laws that forbid discrimination against employees based only on disability, and employment law.

Disability discrimination remains a pressing concern in today's workplaces. This form of prejudice takes many forms and can severely impact the lives and careers of disabled employees.

At the heart of combating this issue are disability discrimination lawyers, dedicated legal professionals specializing in defending the rights of disabled individuals under federal and state laws. Their role is pivotal in ensuring equal treatment and fair employment opportunities for those with disabilities.

This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of what a disability discrimination lawyer does and how they can support individuals facing discrimination in their workplaces.

Key Takeaways

Understanding Disability Discrimination

Federal and state laws forbid discrimination. Specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees by prohibiting employers from discriminating against qualified employees or applicants because of their disabilities. This includes both private and federal employees.

What is disability discrimination?

Disability discrimination refers to the unjust treatment of individuals based on their disabilities, including a diverse range of physical and mental impairments.

A person is considered to have a disability if the impairment "substantially limits" one or more "major life activities."

A major life activity is one that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty, such as walking, speaking, learning, or working.

Categories of disabilities

The ADA categorizes disabilities broadly, protecting individuals with mobility impairments, blindness or visual impairments, deafness or hearing impairments, cognitive disabilities (such as learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities), mental health conditions, or mental impairment (like depression or anxiety), chronic illnesses (like diabetes or cancer), and others.

Requirements of "reasonable accommodation."

wheelchair, ramp, disability

The Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, which are modifications or adjustments that enable a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of their job unless doing so would cause undue hardship.

For example, a reasonable accommodation would be to provide a wheelchair-accessible workplace for an employee with mobility impairment or make available assistive technologies for a visually impaired employee.

The Role of a Disability Discrimination Lawyer

Depending on whether you are an employee or an employer, attorneys can play different roles.

office, attorney, reading

Attorney for Employees

The primary role of disability discrimination attorneys is to help individuals who have experienced unfair treatment in their workplaces due to their disabilities. When an individual files a disability discrimination claim, the attorney helps them navigate the complex legal processes, ensuring their rights are protected and their voices heard.

In situations where an employee experiences an adverse employment action - for instance, if they are fired, demoted, or their work hours are reduced because of their disability or mental condition - a disability discrimination attorney can represent the employee in court, fighting for their rights and seeking appropriate legal remedies.

Attorney for Employers

A disability discrimination lawyer can guide employers in understanding and adhering to their legal obligations. They can assist in formulating policies and procedures that ensure equal employment opportunities for all.

They can also guide employers in providing a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees, for example, by making modifications that enable a disabled employee to perform their job effectively - such as installing ramps for wheelchair access, modifying work schedules, or providing specialized training or equipment.

Recognizing Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Recognizing disability discrimination in the workplace can be challenging, as it often manifests subtly. It could take the form of differential treatment, such as a qualified employee being passed over for promotions or more blatant actions like harassment based on a disability. 

meeting, business, architect

Several signs may indicate disability discrimination:

  1. Unfair job assignments: An employee with a disability is given lesser duties or is overlooked for better assignments.
  2. Denied employment opportunities: Despite being qualified, a disabled individual is not hired or promoted due to their disability.
  3. Lack of reasonable accommodations: Employers fail to make necessary adjustments to the workplace or job duties to accommodate the employee's disability.
  4. Harassment: The employee is subjected to offensive comments, jokes, or actions due to their disability.
  5. Retaliation: The employer retaliates against an employee for asserting their rights under the ADA.

By understanding these signs, employees and employers can foster a fair and inclusive work environment where everyone has equal access to opportunities.

How to Proceed if You've Experienced Disability Discrimination

If you believe you've faced disability discrimination at your workplace, taking immediate legal action is crucial. Here are the steps you should follow.

  1. Document the Incidents: Keep a detailed record of each discriminatory act, including the date, time, location, people involved, and what exactly transpired.
  2. Report to Management: Notify your supervisor, human resources, or any designated authority within your organization about the discriminatory behavior.
  3. File a Complaint with the EEOC: If the discrimination persists, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 
  4. Contact a Disability Discrimination Attorney: It's advisable to seek legal counsel to understand your rights better and explore the possibilities of legal recourse. Disability discrimination cases can be complex. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process, ensuring your rights are well-represented and protected. 

Taking action is vital, not just for your welfare, but also to help enforce laws that protect all employees from discrimination.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the role of a disability discrimination lawyer is crucial in promoting fair employment practices and creating inclusive workplaces. They not only champion the rights of disabled employees but also guide organizations to fulfill their responsibilities under the law.

If you or someone you know faces disability discrimination, contact a qualified disability discrimination attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

FAQs About Disability Discrimination

What are the types of disability discrimination?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to government programs and services.

The ADA recognizes several types of disability discrimination:

  1. Disparate Treatment: This occurs when an individual with a disability is treated less favorably than others because of the disability. For example, not hiring someone solely because they use a wheelchair.
  2. Disparate Impact: This involves policies, practices, or rules that are neutral but end up disproportionately affecting individuals with disabilities. For instance, a physical fitness test that unintentionally screens out individuals with certain mobility impairments.
  3. Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodations: Employers and public services are required to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Not doing so, unless it causes undue hardship, is considered discrimination. For example, not providing sign language interpreters or alternative formats for visually impaired individuals.
  4. Failure to Remove Architectural Barriers: Public accommodations are required to remove architectural barriers where it is reasonable to do so. Failure to make buildings and facilities accessible where it is practical can be considered discrimination.
  5. Retaliation: It's unlawful to retaliate against an individual for asserting their rights under the ADA. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
  6. Association Discrimination: This type of discrimination occurs when an entity discriminates against an individual because of their known association with a person who has a disability. For example, not hiring someone because they have a child with a disability requiring substantial care.
  7. Perceived Disability Discrimination: Discrimination based on the perception that an individual has a disability, even if they do not, is also prohibited under the ADA. For instance, if an employer believes an employee has a mental impairment and treats them less favorably because of that belief.
  8. Hostile Work Environment/Harassment: Creating or allowing a hostile work environment for a person with a disability, including unwanted comments or actions related to their disability, can be considered discrimination if it becomes severe or pervasive.
  9. Denial of Equal Services or Opportunities: This involves denying people with disabilities equal services, programs, or opportunities that are available to others, such as not allowing them to participate in a program or activity because of their disability.

What is an example of disability bias?

Disability bias could manifest as an employer refusing to provide reasonable accommodations, such as flexible working hours for an employee with a chronic illness, or not installing wheelchair ramps for an employee who uses a wheelchair, despite not causing undue hardship to the organization.

What is a disability discrimination case?

A disability discrimination case arises when an individual believes they have been treated unfairly or unjustly at work due to their disability. For example, if an employer fires, demotes, or denies reasonable accommodations to an employee based on their disability, the employee can file a disability discrimination case with the help of an attorney.