Disability discrimination is not limited to situations in which an employer fires, or refuses to hire, a person who has a disability. The Americans With Disabilities (ACT) also requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for a disabled employee. The failure to make such an accommodation is itself a form of illegal discrimination. In addition, state and city laws often provide greater protections for disabled employees. New York City's Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), for instance, says an employer may not treat a disabled employee “less well” than other workers “at least in part for a discriminatory reason.”
Judge Dismisses Race and Age Discrimination Claims, Says Disability Discrimination Case May Proceed
Many disability discrimination cases turn on whether an employer's accommodations are “reasonable.” While an employer is not necessarily required to give a disabled employee the exact accommodation that he or she requests, the law does expect the parties to work together and come up with a solution that allows the employee to perform his or her job. When such a resolution is not reached, the employee may have a discrimination claim against the employer.
Consider this ongoing case from Manhattan. The plaintiff in this case is a 63-year-old African-American woman who spent 20 years working as a substance abuse counselor for the defendant, a New York City alcohol treatment center. The plaintiff presently suffers from “macular degeneration,” which has left her legally blind. This initially required her to use a closed-circuit television monitor at work, which enlarged hard-copy patient forms that she needed to fill out by hand.
The defendant upgraded its systems to electronic filing about four years ago. The plaintiff was permitted to continue using the manual forms, however, because she could not use the electronic system due to her disability. Unfortunately, the plaintiff said this left her unable to complete her work as quickly as her co-workers, and she was subsequently disciplined and suspended for poor performance. The plaintiff alleged the company failed to install and train her in the use of software that would allow her to use the electronic filing system.
The plaintiff was later fired, according to her because of her age and race. She sued the defendant on a number of grounds, including race, sex, and disability discrimination. The judge presiding over the case recently dismissed all of the plaintiff's claims save for disability discrimination. Notably, the plaintiff is not alleging she was fired due to her disability, but rather than while she was still employed the defendant failed to provide her with “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA and the NYCHRL.
While the judge did not rule on the merits of the plaintiff's disability discrimination claim at this time, she said there was a “genuine dispute of fact” as to whether the defendant did everything it could to comply with the law. Indeed, the judge said the current record was “murky, at best” as to why the defendants did not provide the plaintiff with the software and training that she requested. The judge noted that under the NYCHRL, “all accommodations are presumed reasonable,” and the burden is on the employer to prove a requested accommodation “would be an undue burden or that the employee could not perform her duties even with the accommodation.” The defendant has not demonstrated either of these things, the judge said, making it inappropriate to dismiss the plaintiff's disability discrimination claim at this stage of the litigation.
Has Your Employer Failed to Accommodate Your Disability?
As the case above illustrates, disability discrimination claims are highly fact-specific. Each employee's situation is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to determining what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” for a given employee or job. If you suffer from a disability and feel your employer has not made treated you fairly, you should speak with a qualified New York employment law attorney who can advise you of your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today at (800) 496-3076 to schedule a consultation.