In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, to combat discrimination against people with mental or physical disabilities. The ADA is a federal law, but many states and even local governments also have laws that prohibit disability discrimination and require reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities.
The ADA Prohibits Job Discrimination
The ADA prohibits disability discrimination in the workplace, education, and housing. The ADA requires that people with disabilities have the same access to public services, buildings, and accommodations as those without a disability. While the ADA provides broad protection for individuals with disabilities, the largest impact can be felt in the workplace. The ADA provides guidelines that many employers must follow to ensure that employees with disabilities are protected from discrimination. (The law applies to private employers with at least 15 employees; employers that are too small to be covered by the ADA may still be subject to a state or local law prohibiting disability discrimination.)
For example, covered employers may not discriminate against a qualified applicant during the hiring process because of a disability. A qualified applicant is someone who can perform the essential duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer is also required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability, including modifying equipment or making the workplace accessible to the employee. An accommodation is considered reasonable if the modification does not create an undue hardship for the employer. According to the ADA, an undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense for the employer. The court considers the financial resources of the company, the company's size, and the nature of its business when deciding whether an undue hardship exists.
What the ADA Means to You
As defined by the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or major bodily functions (such as the proper functioning of bodily organs, the immune system, or the nervous system). People are protected from discrimination if they have a disability, they have a history of disability, or they are improperly regarded by the employer as disabled, even though they don't actually have a disability. If you think you have been discriminated against because of a disability, you can file a federal lawsuit against an employer, school, housing development or government association for violating the ADA.
To file a lawsuit based on a violation of the ADA in the workplace, you must first submit a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state's fair employment practices agency (if your state also has a law prohibiting disability discrimination). The EEOC is a federal agency that interprets and enforces the laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The complaint may have to be filed within 180 days of the date of discrimination; in some states, the deadline is longer. The EEOC has the right to investigate your claims, try to get your employer to settle the dispute, or even sue on your behalf. Once the agency has finished processing your complaint, you will receive a "right to sue" letter. You must wait until you have a right to sue letter to go forward with your own civil lawsuit. A right to sue letter means that the government is not going to proceed on your behalf, and you are free to pursue the claim of discrimination on your own.
Getting Legal Help
If you have been a victim of discrimination, contact an experienced disability attorney. An attorney will evaluate your situation and, if applicable, help you file a lawsuit for violation of your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.