Do You Need a Disability Discrimination Lawyer?

Do You Need a Disability Discrimination Lawyer?
  • Do you face wrongful termination because of your disability?

  • Is your boss refusing to make a few simple changes that would make your disability a non-issue?
  • Have you been shunted into a dead-end position since you became disabled?

Federal and state laws forbid discrimination against employees based on their disabilities — or their perceived disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act both offer protection to employees with an impairment that substantially limits a "major life activity" such as walking, sitting, standing, or hearing. If you can perform the essential functions of your job, even if it requires some "reasonable" accommodation to do so, you're protected under federal law.

What's a reasonable accommodation? Certainly the term includes classic measures such as wheelchair ramps — but it also might mean a modified work schedule, some specialized training, or a change in duties. Unless such tweaks would impose "undue hardship" on your employer, you're entitled to any adjustments that will help you to work effectively.

If you've been wrongfully fired because you sought a workplace accommodation, federal law may help to restore your career and reputation.

People ask us:

The Employment Law Group® law firm has a track record of representing employees who have faced bias because of their disabilities. Our firm successfully argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that the ADA forbids discrimination against employees with short-term injuries that are “sufficiently severe” to limit a major life activity. Our attorneys are based in Washington, D.C., but we take cases nationwide.

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Important statutes in this area of law:

Notable TELG cases in this area of law:

  • Summers v. Altarum Institute Corp.

    The Fourth Circuit, the highest court to decide the issue, held that sufficiently severe temporary disabilities may constitute a disability under the ADAAA.

If you have suffered illegal discrimination under the ADA, you may be entitled recover back pay, compensatory damages, and attorney fees. In addition, punitive damages are available if an employee can show that the employer engaged in a discriminatory practice with malice or reckless indifference to the employee’s federally protected rights.

As with all legal claims, deadlines are crucial. Employees generally must file a charge of discrimination within the 180 days following an adverse employment action. Federal employees suffering discrimination must file even more quickly — often within a matter of weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

ADA Accommodation Requirements

The ADA requires an employer to make such reasonable accommodations for disabled employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations might include:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
  • Restructuring jobs;
  • Modifying work schedules;
  • Adjusting or modifying equipment, examinations or training material; or
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published extensive guidelines on reasonable accommodation, including illustrative examples.

What’s the difference between the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act?

The two laws are similar but apply to different employers. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act provides the same basic rights for federal employees and job applicants as Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act provides for non-federal employees and job applicants. While the two laws are not identical, their anti-discrimination provisions mostly have been harmonized. One notable difference: Federal employees have less time to make an initial complaint under the Rehab Act than non-federal employees have under the ADA.

What’s the ADAAA?

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) strengthened the ADA and eliminated loopholes created by various court decisions. In particular, the ADAAA:

  • Expanded the phrase “major life activity” to include major bodily functions such as functions of the nervous, urinary and circulatory systems;
  • Clarified that an employee asserting that she was discriminated against because she was “regarded as” disabled need only prove that she was discriminated against because of an actual or perceived impairment;
  • Removed the effects of mitigating measures in determining whether an individual has a disability; and
  • Clarified that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is an ADA disability if it limits a major life activity when the impairment is active.

The EEOC has published a fact sheet that summarizes its handling of the ADAAA.

I have a short-term disability. Am I protected from disability discrimination?

Possibly. Until the ADAAA passed, chances are that you would not have been deemed protected. Under the ADAAA, however, the ADA embraces injuries from which you’ll recover — but that are serious enough to “substantially limit” one or more major life activities.

I could perform much better if my boss were a bit more flexible. Does my employer have a duty to discuss my ideas?

Employers must engage in an “interactive process” to come up with any “reasonable accommodations” that could allow a disabled employee to do his or her job. This doesn’t mean that an employer must give you everything you ask for. Instead, employers and employees must engage in a good-faith dialogue to see if there are any adjustments that would allow you to do your job without imposing an undue hardship on your employer.

I’m pretty sure I’ve faced disability discrimination. What should I do?

You should file a complaint with the appropriate agency. The agency may vary depending on where you work — and deadlines may vary, too. To get a full picture of your rights, consider contacting our ADA lawyers.

Where else can I go for reliable information and advice about disability discrimination?

The U.S. Department of Justice maintains, but the site can be a bit difficult to navigate. The EEOC is the primary enforcer of federal anti-discrimination laws, and offers a good Q+A section about the ADA. The U.S. Department of Labor has an excellent list of resources and links about the ADA. The Job Accommodation Network is government-funded and offers free advice to individuals. Finally, the ADA National Network also is government-funded and can offer training and advice; many of its services are aimed at employers and institutions, but its Web site includes lots of useful information.


TELG obtained the severance agreement I deserved
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Initially I was impressed how quickly I received a phoned response after my interaction with the chat operator. The initial case-screening was painless, yet thorough. Having passed muster, TELG attorneys quickly mobilized to begin the process of pursuing action on my behalf. Satisfied I met the threshold for a significant cause of action, I quickly was walked through my responsibilities as a client. The logic of TELG's preferred approach immediately was clear. Let me be clear, the burden on the client to be responsive, forthcoming, and transparent is significant. This process is not for the faint-of-heart or a client who is not serious. But if once over that financial and psychological threshold, it is my belief that the attorneys and staff at TELG really can perform good work in your behalf. Their negotiations with my former employer secured for me the severance package I gladly would have accepted at the outset. It wasn't outrageous or punitive but, I believe, caused my former employer to realize that I deserved better treatment.

April 15, 2014

Area of Law: Discrimination