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Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination happens when an employer treats a person differently because of their medical condition, because of a perceived medical condition, or because of a record of a medical condition. Separately, an employer might deny a disabled person a workplace accommodation which would let the employee better perform his job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was amended in 2010 (the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act – the ADAAA). The ADAAA prohibits disability discrimination in private industry and is based on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits disability discrimination by the federal government and government contractors.

Under the law, an employer must provide a disabled employee or applicant with a workplace accommodation unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. An individual is entitled to a reasonable accommodation if he or she is “disabled” as defined by the law. This means that the employee has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity. The employee may have an obligation to notify the employer of the need for an accommodation and the employer has the right to ask for some information regarding the scope of the employee’s limitations because of the medical condition. The employee and the employer are both obligated to participate in an interactive process that helps them identify potential accommodations together.

An accommodation is any change to the work environment or work methodologies. An accommodation is reasonable if it will help the employee with a disability perform and does not present an undue hardship or cost for the employer. Accommodations can take the form of tele-work, flexible work schedules, and assistive devices. Accommodations can also involve altering the workplace so it is wheelchair accessible or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired.

An employer may not treat disabled employees unfairly because of their medical conditions and may not retaliate against someone because they asked for an accommodation. The law prohibits associational discrimination, meaning it is illegal to treat someone differently because they are associated with someone who has a disability, such as a spouse or child who is disabled.

Employment discrimination against an individual because of their disability can take many forms. The following are most common:

  • Failure to accommodate
  • Non-selection for a position
  • Non-promotion for a position
  • Unequal training
  • Job assignments
  • Pay
  • Firing
  • Different performance standards
  • Layoff
  • Fringe Benefits
  • Harassment
  • Any other term or condition of employment.


If you think your employer is denying you an equal opportunity to succeed at your job by denying you a reasonable accommodation, you should talk with a lawyer who is familiar with disability law.

The interactive process can be frustrating. By talking with a lawyer, you can learn whether your employer’s requests for medical information are appropriate or abusive. You may significantly limit your ability to preserve your rights if you do not participate in good faith or if you withhold certain information from the employer.

If you need help requesting an accommodation or if you think you have been discriminated against because of your medical condition, you have deadlines by which you must file a charge of discrimination. These deadlines depend on where you worked (or where you applied for a job, if you were an applicant). If you are an employee or applicant with the federal government or D.C. government, special rules apply.

If you work in Washington, D.C., Maryland or Virginia, we can represent you. You must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or with your local human rights office. The rules and procedures of each office are very different, so it is important that you talk with a lawyer to understand your rights and obligations.

If you think you have been the victim of disability discrimination, or if your employer is not cooperating with you to provide an accommodation, and want to know your rights and options, contact us. During an initial consultation, we can evaluate whether you may have an employment discrimination claim, how to pursue and protect your rights, and identify what remedies may be available for you.


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