Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on disability.  The statute also bars retaliation against employees for asserting their rights under the statute.

The ADA applies to employers throughout the country with at least 15 employees, including state and local governments.  Federal employees are protected from disability discrimination by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which offers substantially the same protections as the ADA.

Under the ADA, “No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.”  42 U.S.C. § 12112(a).  The law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and benefits. 

Not everyone with a “disabling” condition is protected by the ADA.  To be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a physical or mental condition that “substantially limits” a “major life activity” (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning).  42 U.S.C. § 12102.  (State or local laws may define “disability” more broadly.) The ADA protects employees who are disabled, who are perceived as disabled, or who have a record of being disabled.  The statute also requires employers to provide disabled employees with “reasonable accommodations” to enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs, unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer.

If an employee proves disability discrimination in violation of the ADA, the remedies available under the statute include hiring, reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.  Compensatory damages and punitive damages are “capped” depending on the size of the employer.

To be protected by the ADA, an employee first must file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.  Under certain circumstances, this time limit may be extended to 300 days.  Note:  federal employees must file a charge of discrimination with their agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the alleged discrimination.

To be protected by the ADA, an employee first must file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.  Under certain circumstances, this time limit may be extended to 300 days.  Note:  federal employees must file a charge of discrimination with their agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the alleged discrimination.

If the matter does not settle, at the end of the investigation, the EEOC may issue a finding of “probable cause” or “no probable cause” regarding the employee’s claims, although usually the EEOC does not take a position.  The EEOC process usually takes several months.  The EEOC then will issue the employee a “right to sue” letter that authorizes the employee to file a lawsuit in court, although it is possible to obtain the “right to sue” letter sooner.  The employee’s lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of receipt of the letter.

Because the rules and procedures under the ADA are complicated, an employee should discuss his or her complaints of disability discrimination promptly with a qualified employment lawyer.

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