Can I Sue My Employer for Failing To Accommodate My Disability? Staff Profile Picture
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The Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA, is a federal civil rights law that prevents discrimination against people with disabilities. First passed in 1990, this law is intended to ensure that people with disabilities are provided the same opportunities as everyone else, both in the workplace and in everyday life. Under the ADA, employers are required to ensure that workers with disabilities have equal access to employment opportunities such as hiring, training, pay, promotions, and work-related social activities. Disabilities covered by this law include physical and intellectual disabilities. In other words, some disabilities may not be outwardly visible to others. If you feel you have been discriminated against in the workplace due to your disability or that your employer has failed to adequately accommodate your disability, you may be entitled to compensation. 

Can I File a Lawsuit Against My Employer for Refusing To Accommodate My Disability?

Before you can jump into filing a lawsuit against your employer, you will need to file a charge of discrimination against your employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency that enforces the ADA. 

Per the ADA website: “Individuals may file a lawsuit in Federal court only after they receive a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC.” 

In order to prove that you have a legitimate case of discrimination, you’ll need to provide proof of the following four factors:

Employer is Subject to the Rules of the ADA

Title I of the ADA, which deals with employment, explains that the law applies to employers with 15 or more active employees. This section of the law extends to local and state governments, religious entities, commercial facilities, and any other businesses that employ 15 or more individuals. 

(Employees of companies with less than 15 employees may still be entitled to pursue legal action through other avenues at the state or local government level, depending on the laws in their state or municipality.)

You Are Considered Disabled, per the ADA

The definition of a disabled person, as provided by the ADA, refers to any individual who: 

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that considerably limits one or more of that individual’s major life activities 

  • Has a record or history of said impairment 

  • Is perceived by others as having such an impairment

You Are Able to Perform the Necessary Elements of Your Job

You will need to establish that you are capable of performing the essential functions of your role with or without reasonable accommodation. 

Adverse Action on the Part of Your Employer

Employer discrimination of a disabled individual may look like any of the following if it occurred as a direct result of your disability:

  • Lost job 

  • Demoted or disciplined

  • Passed over for a promotion

  • Received less pay than others in the same role

  • Harassed by co-workers without consequences for said co-workers

  • Otherwise treated unfairly or differently than fellow, non-disabled employees

  • Employer failed to or refused to provide reasonable accommodation

Failure To Provide Reasonable Accommodation Lawsuits

Disabled employees who are qualified for their jobs and otherwise able to perform the essential functions of the role they were hired to fill may, at times, require that reasonable accommodations be made on the job. It is the employee’s responsibility to make it known to their employers if such accommodations are needed. Employers are not legally obligated to anticipate what accommodations a disabled employee may need. Once they have been made aware of an employee’s requests, however, employers are legally required to participate in what’s known as the interactive process. Put simply, they will need to work with the employee to find a reasonable accommodation that works for both parties. If an employer fails to make reasonable accommodations as requested by disabled employees, they may find they have a lawsuit on their hands. 

Making a Request

The request for reasonable accommodation does not have to be made in writing or in any formal manner. It can be as simple as asking your supervisor for a change to be made for the sake of your disability. Common requests may include physical changes to your workspace, adjustments to your schedule, increased time off, or exceptions to certain work policies.

Unreasonable Requests or Undue Hardship

Unreasonable requests for accommodation, like changing the necessary qualifications for a role, removing vital functions of the job, providing personal health equipment for an employee, or lowering standards for performance and output are not considered discrimination under the ADA guidelines. Additionally, if a request for accommodation would place undue hardship on the employer, they are not legally required to provide that accommodation.  

Employer Response Time

There is no specific guideline laid out for how long an employer has to respond to a request. However, the EEOC has advised that employers should act as quickly as possible when it comes to finding an appropriate solution for a request. Undue delays may be deemed a violation of the ADA. 

Request Denied

In the event that a request for reasonable accommodation is ignored or denied, make sure your employer is aware of the request and that they correctly understood your request and why it was necessary. Put it in writing for your employer, and make them aware of current ADA guidelines if they are not already. 

If they continue to ignore or deny your request, it is a good idea to have them provide something in writing explaining why they are refusing to provide reasonable accommodations on your behalf. At this time, you may also want to begin filing a charge through the EEOC public portal. This will be your first step toward taking legal action. 

Again, as previously stated, you will not be able to file a federal lawsuit against your employer until you have received approval to do so from the EEOC. 

Filing Your Complaint

When contacting the EEOC, in addition to providing proof of the four factors outlined above, you’ll need to be prepared to provide the following details:

  • Your name and contact information

  • Employer’s name and contact information

  • Number of workers employed at your place of work

  • Discrimination complaint (Why do you feel you were discriminated against?)

  • Details of the discrimination, including dates, times, and any key players or witnesses

Retaliation for Disability Accommodation Lawsuits

According to the ADA National Network, the retaliation clause of the ADA outlaws discrimination on the part of an employer against an employee who has filed a complaint or lawsuit against them. In other words, if an employee with a disability files a lawsuit against their employer for neglecting to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace, it is unlawful for that employer to retaliate against the employee, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit. The EEOC defines retaliation as committing an adverse action against a covered individual who has engaged in protected activity. 

If you filed a complaint against your employer and feel that you were later discriminated against for taking this action, you may choose to file a retaliation claim against your employer. In order to do so, you will need to establish that the following three factors are true:

  1. You participated in activity that is protected by ADA statute 

    • (you sued your employer)

  2. Your employer committed an adverse action against you

    • (they retaliated)

  3. Said adverse action was causally connected to your statutorily protected activity

    • (their retaliation is linked to your having previously sued them)

How Long Does a Disability Lawsuit Take?

There is no set timeline for how long your lawsuit will take. Nor is there any guarantee that a settlement will be quickly reached. Every lawsuit has its own unique set of circumstances and may take months or even years to be resolved, depending on the severity and complexity of the charges. 

Here are some possible contributing factors to the length of time your lawsuit may take:

  • Time it takes for the EEOC to review your initial complaint

  • Time it takes for you to file your suit with the courts after the EEOC has given you the right to sue

  • Time it takes for mediation and/or arbitration

  • Whether or not a settlement can be reached out of court

  • When your court date is scheduled

  • General complexity of your case

How To Get a Disability Lawyer To Take Your Case

If you have plausible cause to believe that you have been discriminated against in the workplace due to your disability because your employer knowingly failed to provide reasonable accommodation when requested, you should immediately contact a qualified employment lawyer who can help you navigate the steps you need to take to seek justice. 

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