Disability Discrimination

When does disability discrimination by an employer in California leads to a lawsuit?

Disability discrimination by an employer in California can lead to a lawsuit when the employer’s actions violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws. In California, the primary law addressing disability discrimination in employment is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Here are some situations in which disability discrimination may give rise to a lawsuit:

  1. Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodations:
    • If an employee has a qualifying disability, the employer is required to engage in the interactive process and provide reasonable accommodations that would enable the employee to perform their job duties. If an employer fails to provide reasonable accommodations without a valid defense, it can lead to a discrimination lawsuit.
  2. Adverse Employment Actions Based on Disability:
    • If an employer takes adverse employment actions, such as termination, demotion, or denial of promotions, based on an employee’s disability or perceived disability, it may be considered disability discrimination under FEHA.
  3. Hostile Work Environment:
    • Creating a hostile work environment based on an employee’s disability can also be grounds for a lawsuit. This may involve pervasive harassment, mockery, or mistreatment related to the employee’s disability.
  4. Retaliation for Asserting Rights:
    • If an employee asserts their rights under disability discrimination laws, such as requesting accommodations or filing a complaint, and the employer retaliates by taking adverse employment actions, the employee may have a valid claim.
  5. Pre-Employment Inquiries and Medical Examinations:
    • If an employer makes inappropriate inquiries about an applicant’s disability or requires medical examinations that are not job-related and consistent with business necessity, it may be considered discriminatory. This includes inquiries made during the hiring process.
  6. Constructive Discharge:
    • If an employer creates such intolerable working conditions related to an employee’s disability that the employee is effectively forced to resign, it may be considered constructive discharge and give rise to a discrimination claim.
  7. Unequal Terms and Conditions:
    • Providing different terms and conditions of employment to employees with disabilities, such as inferior assignments, work schedules, or opportunities, may be considered discriminatory.
  8. Denial of Benefits:
    • Denying an employee with a disability access to benefits or privileges that are provided to other employees may be considered discrimination.

It’s important for employees facing disability discrimination to document instances of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation and to consult with an employment law attorney. Before filing a lawsuit, employees are generally required to exhaust administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, consulting with an attorney early in the process can help ensure that the employee’s rights are protected and that the appropriate legal steps are taken.

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What injuries, diseases or mental health conditions qualify for disability discrimination by an employer in California?

In California, disability discrimination laws protect individuals with physical and mental health conditions that substantially limit one or more major life activities. The definition of disability is broad, encompassing a range of injuries, diseases, and mental health conditions. Some examples include:

  1. Physical Disabilities:
    • Physical disabilities that substantially limit major life activities may include conditions such as paralysis, amputation, chronic pain, mobility impairments, or conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system.
  2. Chronic Illnesses:
    • Chronic illnesses that have a significant impact on daily life and functioning, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes, or Crohn’s disease, may qualify as disabilities.
  3. Mental Health Conditions:
    • Mental health conditions, including but not limited to depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and other conditions that substantially limit mental and emotional functioning, are covered.
  4. Neurological Disorders:
    • Neurological disorders such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease may qualify as disabilities if they substantially limit major life activities.
  5. Vision or Hearing Impairments:
    • Visual or hearing impairments, including conditions like blindness or deafness, are considered disabilities if they substantially limit major life activities.
  6. Cancer:
    • Cancer and its effects on individuals’ physical or mental health may qualify as disabilities under anti-discrimination laws.
  7. HIV/AIDS:
    • Individuals with HIV/AIDS are protected from discrimination under disability laws, as these conditions can substantially limit major life activities.
  8. Injuries Resulting in Impairments:
    • Injuries that result in long-term impairments, such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or severe orthopedic injuries, may qualify as disabilities.

It’s important to note that the determination of whether a particular condition qualifies as a disability is based on an individualized assessment, considering the impact of the condition on the person’s ability to perform major life activities. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to enable them to perform their job duties unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer.

If an employee believes they are facing disability discrimination, they should consult with an employment law attorney to discuss their specific situation and explore their rights and legal options under California law, particularly the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).


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What damages and penalties are recoverable in a California disability discrimination claim against an employer?

In a California disability discrimination claim against an employer, individuals may be entitled to various damages and remedies if they prevail in their case. The specific damages and penalties can depend on the circumstances of the discrimination and the relief sought. Here are some potential recoverable damages and penalties in a disability discrimination claim:

  1. Compensatory Damages:
    • Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the victim for the harm suffered due to the discrimination. This may include monetary compensation for emotional distress, pain and suffering, and any other non-economic losses.
  2. Back Pay and Front Pay:
    • Back pay represents the wages and benefits the employee would have earned if not for the discrimination. Front pay may be awarded if the employee cannot be reinstated and is entitled to compensation for future lost earnings.
  3. Reinstatement or Job Restoration:
    • If the employee was wrongfully terminated or subjected to adverse employment actions, the court may order the employer to reinstate the employee to their previous position or a similar position.
  4. Reasonable Accommodations:
    • If the employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations, the court may order the employer to implement these accommodations to enable the employee to perform their job duties.
  5. Punitive Damages:
    • In cases involving particularly egregious or intentional acts of discrimination, punitive damages may be awarded. Punitive damages are meant to punish the employer and deter similar future conduct.
  6. Attorney’s Fees and Costs:
    • If the employee prevails in their discrimination claim, the court may order the employer to pay the employee’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
  7. Injunctive Relief:
    • The court may issue an injunction to prevent the employer from engaging in further discriminatory practices. This could include implementing policies and training programs to prevent future discrimination.
  8. Statutory Damages:
    • Under California law, certain statutes may provide for statutory damages. For example, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) allows for the recovery of statutory damages in some cases.

It’s important to note that the specific remedies and damages can vary depending on the facts of the case and the legal claims asserted. Additionally, individuals who believe they have been subjected to disability discrimination in California generally need to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before pursuing legal action.

Consulting with an employment law attorney is crucial for understanding the potential damages and penalties applicable to a specific case and for navigating the legal process effectively.


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