Disability & Discrimination Cases

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In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to protect Americans with disabilities against discrimination and harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government agency in charge of enforcing employment provisions of this act. Every year, the EEOC files lawsuits against employers who violate the law’s provisions.

Federal vs. State Disability Standard

Toyota Motor Manufacturing v. Williams, a 2002 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, raised the standard of what counts as a disability from a condition that interferes with an individual’s ability to perform his job to a condition that interferes with a person’s usual daily activity, such as doing household chores and bathing. Though this decision makes hit more difficult for an employee to prove he has a disability, it only applies to federal cases regarding the ADA. Some states define “disability” in discrimination and harassment cases as a condition that limits the employee’s ability to do his job.

The ADA Amendments Act

The ADA requires employers to evaluate their workers by considering their qualifications, not their disabilities. They are also required to make reasonable accommodations for workers’ disabilities. Before 2008, federal courts had decided that some major illnesses, like cancer and diabetes, were not covered by the ADA. In response, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act in 2008 to broaden the definition of disability. As a result, employers are now required to recognize major illnesses as protected disabilities.

Arthritis and EEOC Enforcement

To enforce the provisions of the ADA Amendments Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against a national drugstore chain for disallowing the use of a stool by a longtime employee with arthritic knees. The employee, who was ultimately fired, had used a stool without incident for seven years before a new manager decided he “did not like the idea” of the employee using the stool. Before the adoption of the ADA Amendments Act, severe arthritis may not have been considered a covered disability under the ADA.

Cancer and EEOC Enforcement

Another EEOC lawsuit under the ADA Amendments Act was filed against a printing company that fired a decade-long employee after refusing to allow the employee to work part-time while he was undergoing cancer treatments. The company believed that the machinist had exceeded the maximum hours of leave permissible under company policy. In this case, the EEOC believed the company not only failed to consider cancer a disability, but also did not make a reasonable accommodation for the employee’s disability. In both this case and the one about the employee with arthritic knees, the EEOC offered to reach a voluntary settlement before resorting to the lawsuits.

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