Disability Discrimination

Disability Discrimination

Questions commonly arise in the workplace regarding physical and mental disabilities, how, when and why they may be discussed or considered by an employer in making employment-related decisions, and what legal requirements apply to such situations. The attorneys at our Firm are very familiar with a wide variety of federal and state disability laws and how they differ across jurisdictions. We have handled cases involving a wide variety of disabilities, from heart-related conditions to diabetes to cancer. With this knowledge and experience, we help many clients effectively navigate complicated and sensitive employment situations. If you have questions or concerns regarding disabilities in the workplace or how they might need to be accommodated, contact an attorney with our Firm to discuss your situation in more detail.

Americans with Disabilities Act

In the aftermath of civil rights legislation from the 1960s, Congress began to pass legislation that protected the rights of those individuals with disabilities in certain situations. However, it was not until 1990 when Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Substantial litigation under the ADA followed and resulted in a series of decisions, including decisions by the United States Supreme Court, that tended to limit the scope and reach of the ADA.

In 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (“ADAAA”) to address common issues arising in ADA litigation and to clarify significant terms, such as “disability” and “major life activities.” In doing so, Congress specifically overturned two controversial decisions by the United States Supreme Court: Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc. and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams. The net message of these amendments was clear: Congress intended the ADA’s protections to be broader than many courts believed.

In general, federal disability discrimination law prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). A “qualified individual” means an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. 42 U.SC. § 12111(8).

The ADAAA expanded the definition of “disability,” among other terms. See 49 U.S.C. § 12102. Under the ADA, the term “disability” means, with respect to an individual:

  • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
  • a record of such an impairment; or
  • being regarded as having such an impairment.

In order for an individual to have a cause of action for disability discrimination under the ADA, he or she must be able to satisfy one or more of these definitions of disability.

These terms and standards have been subject to a large amount of litigation, before and after the ADAAA. Extensive regulations elaborate on their meaning and scope. To understand their meaning and applicability in any given situation, one must conduct a fact-intensive analysis to determine if an individual is protected under the ADA. Dolley Law, LLC provides knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel in connection with a wide variety of disputes, questions, concerns, or issues related to disabilities or their reasonable accommodation in the workplace.

Reasonable Accommodation

Unlike other civil rights related laws, the ADA imposes an additional requirement that employers must reasonably accommodate disabilities in the workplace. A failure to do so may result in a violation of the ADA, even where there is no other adverse action taken against an employee.

The ADA does not define “reasonable accommodation,” but it provides general guidance and examples. A “reasonable accommodation” may include: (A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and (B) job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

Once an employee makes a request for a reasonable accommodation, employers should engage in a good-faith, interactive process with the employee to determine an appropriate reasonable accommodation. While federal and state laws may vary in terms of whether an employer must engage in an interactive process to determine reasonable accommodation(s), failing to engage in such a process may constitute “prima facie evidence that the employer [was] acting in bad faith.”Minnihan v. Mediacom Comm. Corp., 779 F.3d 803, 813 (8th Cir. 2015).

Nonetheless, under the ADA, if providing a reasonable accommodation would impose an "undue hardship" on the employer, the employer is not required to undertake such an expense or burden to comply with the ADA. The ADA defines an “undue hardship” as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense, when considered in light of the following factors:

  1. the nature and cost of the requested accommodation;
  1. the overall financial resources of the facility or facilities involved in the provision of the reasonable accommodation; the number of overall employees employed at such facility; the effect on expenses and resources, or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the facility;
  1. the overall financial resources of the employer; the overall size of the business of an employer with respect to the number of its employees; the number, type, and location of its facilities;
  1. the type of operation or operations of the employer, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of such entity; the geographic separateness, administrative, or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities in question to the employer.

Like other issues under the ADA, determining whether an “undue hardship” may exist as a result of a requested accommodation involves detailed consideration of a wide variety of facts and circumstances. We provide legal counsel you need to carefully consider all of your options within the bounds of the law.

Missouri Law

The Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) also prohibits disability discrimination. See § 213.055 RSMo. The MHRA and ADA have many similarities. However, the Missouri Supreme Court recently observed that, “[w]hile the MHRA and ADA are coextensive, ‘the protections provided by federal statutes like the…ADA are not identical to those provided by the MHRA.’” Li Lin v. Ellis, No. SC97641, 2020 WL 203145, at *3-5 (Mo. banc Jan. 14, 2020). “If the wording in the MHRA is clear and unambiguous, then federal case law which is contrary to the plain meaning of the MHRA is not binding.” Id. (concluding an accommodation request is not a protected activity under the MHRA). Understanding when and how the ADA may from the MHRA is critical to understanding your rights and obligations under applicable law. We strive to stay abreast of these nuances and developments in the case law to protect your rights and interests.

Contact Us

If you are facing a situation involving concerns about disability discrimination or reasonable accommodation in the workplace, we are here to help. Please contact us directly at (314) 645-4100 or by email at kevin@dolleylaw.com.

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