ADA employment discrimination claims and defensesThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against persons with disabilities who are qualified to do the essential functions of the job, if the employers are aware of the disability. See
The plaintiff must have a disability, be a qualified individual, and have suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability.
The Q&A that follows defines the elements and common defenses. There has been considerable litigation at the edge of these definitions, and this exercise is not intended to answer every question, but rather to provide an overview of the elements and defenses. Another overview is provided by the above flow chart (click on it for a full size PDF).
A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. A major life activity is an activity that is of central importance to everyday life, that an average person can do without much difficulty. Temporary injuries and short-term impairments are not disabilities.
Persons are also regarded as having a disability if employers believe that the person has a disability, and is treated as such.
The ADA may also apply where adverse action was taken against a person without a present disability who had a record of a disability, or is taking medication to control the disability.
Plaintiffs are qualified under the ADA if, at the time of the challenged employment decision, they:
The plaintiff was:
If the applicant or employee does not ask for an accommodation, the employer does not have to provide one unless it knows of the disability. If a disability and the need to accommodate it are obvious, however, the law does not always require an applicant or employee to expressly ask for a reasonable accommodation.
An accommodation is a change that will let a person with a disability perform, apply for, or be eligible for the job. A reasonable accommodation might include "job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities."
An employer does not need to accommodate a disabled employee if the accommodation would cause an undue hardship to the business. See
Appropriate factors to consider include the nature and cost of the accommodation, the size of the business and number of people it employs, and the types and number of facilities it runs.
The required accommodation would:Go back to the starting page
A plaintiff must show an adverse action, such as failing to accommodate the diability, not hiring, not promoting, or firing the plaintiff because of the disability or perceived disability.
Quitting a job is equivalent to a firing where the employer purposely made the working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position would have had to quit. This is sometimes called "constructive discharge."
An employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual who is merely "regarded as" disabled.
Mixed motive cases occur where the employer produces a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. The finder of fact determines whether it is valid or pretextual. The Supreme Court has not spoken definitively on the proper standard for this inquiry in ADA employment discrimination cases.
Typically, employment discrimination cases involve lost wages and benefits. But in some cases a jury may be permitted to return a verdict for only nominal damages. This may occur where the plaintiff was given severance pay, and was able to secure a better paying job, so the evidence did not not support an award of back pay, but the adverse action could support an award of compensatory damages.
The ADA allows compensatory and punitive damages except in reasonable accommodations cases where the employer has made a good faith, although ultimately unsuccessful, effort to reasonably accommodate the employee with disabilities in consultation with the employee seeking the accommodation.
The plaintiff does not have a case under the ADA
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