Disabilities Discrimination

Firm Seeks to End Disability Discrimination in Palm Beach County

Extending employment opportunities to Florida workers with disabilities

Until recently, people with disabilities were often — and legally — subjected to discrimination in the workplace. Workers and job applicants with disabilities had no recourse under the law to combat discrimination. That was the situation until the U.S. Congress passed two landmark acts — the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) — to extend antidiscrimination protection to people with disabilities. At Pfeffer & Associates, our founding attorney has dedicated his practice to fighting discrimination in the Florida workplace for almost three decades.

Fighting for workers with disabilities in St. Lucie County

Although the ADA defines specific rights of workers with disabilities, employers continue to unfairly discriminate against people who are qualified for a job and who deserve the opportunities that their skills and abilities would otherwise afford them. Our firm demands that employers abide by the ADA and the ADAAA, and we hold them accountable when they fail to do so.

Read about the rights you have under the ADA and the ADAAA:

When discrimination was legal

Before 1990, an employer in Florida could legally fire, demote, harass or refuse to hire an individual with a disability. Rather than focus on the individual’s abilities, many employers concentrated on perceptions about the person’s limitations or restrictions, often based on stereotypes and misinformation. A common excuse was that hiring a person with a disability would lead to higher employer costs for workers’ compensation and health insurance.

Although not physically or mentally limited in performing work tasks, some workers — including individuals with HIV or a history of involuntary hospitalization for mental illness — were discriminated against and denied employment because employers viewed them as dangerous and a threat to be around. In other cases, employers misguidedly sought to protect workers with disabilities by limiting the jobs they were allowed to perform.

Almost all workers with disabilities had one experience in common: They were routinely denied the opportunity to work, earn a living, pay taxes and support their families.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act mandating the end to discrimination. Unfortunately, many employees never got their days in court, especially on the federal level. Their lawsuits were routinely dismissed in a proceeding known as summary judgment. Often the court sided with employers who argued that a worker’s physical or mental condition was not severe enough to meet the ADA’s definition of disability or that the severity of the condition was mitigated by treatment or an assistive device.

An employee with a disability was in an untenable situation. The employee had to prove that the medical condition was considered a disability, but was not so severe as to render her or him unable to perform the job in question.

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Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)

Because the courts had narrowly interpreted the ADA, it was difficult for individuals with disabilities to prevail and enforce their rights to equal employment opportunity. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act in 2008 brought fairness to the process.

The ADAAA broadly defines qualifying major life activities — the basis for determining disability — to include:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Working

The amendment also expanded the definition of disabilities to include substantial limitation of a major bodily function, such as the employee’s:

  • Immune system
  • Normal self-growth
  • Digestive system
  • Bowel
  • Bladder
  • Neurological system
  • Brain
  • Respiratory system
  • Endocrine system
  • Reproductive system

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Eliminating the mitigating measures defense

Further, the ADAAA eliminated the mitigating measures defense that employers commonly used under the ADA to throw out disability discrimination cases. For example, under the ADA, an employer would argue that an individual missing a leg — but who was able to walk or run with a leg prosthesis — was not substantially limited in walking and, therefore, was not disabled. The more successful a person was at coping with a disability, the more likely the court would rule that she or he did not have a disability and, thus, was not protected by the ADA.

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How the antidiscrimination laws protect you

The ADAAA prohibits your employer from firing, demoting, harassing or refusing to hire you and from denying you any terms, conditions or privileges of employment based on your disability. In fact, your employer is required to affirmatively reasonably accommodate you in the application process or in the performance of your job.

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Reasonable workplace accommodations

The ADA mandates that your employer make reasonable workplace accommodations for you — such as altering your work area or company policies or procedures — that allow you to keep your job and remain competitive in the workplace.

Your employer is required to meet with you to prepare the specific accommodation that will allow you to perform the essential functions of your job. However, your employer does not have to change the essential functions of your job or make the exact accommodations you request, just reasonable accommodations, which may include:

  • Changing the physical structure and layout of your work area
  • Changing how your work is performed
  • Altering your work schedule
  • Providing you with a short leave of absence
  • Transferring you to a currently vacant position

The primary focus in a disability discrimination case is not on the disability, but rather on your employer’s actions.

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Remedies for unlawful discrimination in Florida

Your first step to reach justice is to file a claim of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) within one year after the discrimination occurs.

Depending on the facts of your case, you may be eligible for such monetary damages as:

  • Back pay
  • Front pay
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney fees
  • Compensatory damages for:
    • Pain
    • Suffering
    • Loss of enjoyment of life

In addition, the court may order your employer to reinstate you to your job or to provide a reasonable accommodation.

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For more information about the rights of Florida workers and job applicants with disabilities, consult our dedicated lawyers

Individuals with disabilities can protect their rights in the workplace. Call Pfeffer & Associates at 561-745-8011 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Our attorney can handle your discrimination claim on a contingency fee basis.

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