Disability discrimination is often trickier to prove than discrimination based on race, gender, or national origin. For one thing, the employee must be proactive in notifying the employer of a disability and requesting a “reasonable accommodation.” The employer is not in a position to guess whether an employee has a disability. Indeed, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids an employer from asking a job applicant about the “existence, nature, or severity of a disability.” However, an employer may ask about an applicant's ability to perform certain job functions, or require a medical exam if that is standard policy for all new hires in similar positions.
Court Rejects Ex-Warehouse Manager's Discrimination Claim
Not all disabilities are permanent impairments. If you are injured during the course of your employment, you may require temporary accommodation to continue performing your job. The ADA covers such situations and protects employees from dismissal or retaliation for making such requests. But once again, the employee must inform the employer they have an impairment that may qualify as an ADA-recognized disability.
Employers often cite their ignorance of an employee's disability as a defense in ADA-related lawsuits. Consider this recent case from Brooklyn. The plaintiff in this federal lawsuit, a warehouse manager, alleged that he was fired because he suffered a workplace injury resulting in a “mild-to-moderate disability that prevents him from moving heavy objects or frequently bending.” In response, the defendant said it fired the defendant because it discovered he was illegally selling company property and pocketing the proceeds.
According to the judge presiding over the case, the “undisputed facts” showed the defendant's vice president of human resources decided to fire the defendant the day before the plaintiff suffered his disabling injury. Although the plaintiff was not formally terminated for several more weeks, he presented no evidence to rebut the vice president's testimony. Given this, the judge agreed “the decision to fire [the plaintiff] cannot have been made because of his disability.” Indeed, the judge pointed to a footnote in a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that similarly suggested when a defendant was “truly unaware that such a disability existed, it would be impossible for [its] hiring decision to have been based, even in part, on respondent's disability.”
That said, a court can “infer” that disability discrimination occurred when there is “temporal proximity” between the plaintiff's “disclosure of a disability” and the defendant's decision to terminate employment. But the judge said the defendant overcame any such inference in this case because it presented “evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing,” i.e. his alleged theft of company property.
Has Your Disability Set You Back at Work?
If you need any sort of accommodation at work due to a temporary or permanent disability, you need to be upfront with your employer about it. At the same time, if you have reason to believe that your employer has used your disclosure against you in any way, you should speak with a qualified New York employment law attorney who can review your situation and help you determine if you have a disability discrimination claim. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today if you need assistance right away.