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 What is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)?

In 1986, the U.S. National Council on Disability (“NCD”) proposed a bill that would eventually become a federal civil rights law known as the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)

The main purpose of the ADA was and still is to prohibit both public and private employers from discriminating against individuals who have mental and/or physical disabilities. The final version of the bill was signed into law in late July of 1990, and has since been amended several times.

The ADA predominantly focuses on discrimination based on disability in the workplace. However, the Act also precludes Congress, state and local governments, commercial facilities, telecommunication providers, public accommodations, housing, and modes of transportation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities as well. 

The Act is intentionally divided into five sections that cover different sectors of public life, such as education, transportation, and work. Within each of these five sections, the ADA guarantees certain protections, rights, and equal opportunities to disabled persons. It should be noted, however, that an individual must be eligible under the Act in order to receive its protections and only entities that qualify under the Act must comply with it. 

For example, gender identity is no longer considered a disability that is covered by the Act. So, while a worker may claim they are being discriminated against at work because of their gender, such discrimination would fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or state employment discrimination laws, not the provisions of the ADA.

The ADA is a very detailed and complicated set of laws. Thus, if you have any questions or would like to file a claim against an employer based on the ADA, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local employment lawyer to receive further advice on the matter.

What is a Disability under the ADA?

The term “disability” is not explicitly defined in the ADA. Instead, the Act provides a vague description that defines the meaning of a “disability” as any physical or mental impairment that significantly impairs one or more major life activities or bodily functions. Major life activities include both involuntary and voluntary tasks like breathing, eating, sleeping, learning, reading, thinking, hearing, standing, communicating, and performing manual labor. 

Also, while the Act never says what types of medical conditions may qualify, individuals can use those that can be found in the list provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) as a general guide. 

If an individual is uncertain as to whether their condition qualifies as a disability under the ADA, they should speak to a mental health disability lawyer for further guidance. A mental health disability lawyer can determine whether or not the individual is protected by the ADA, and if so, can inform them of whether they may be eligible for a quicker approval of their benefits.

A mental health disability lawyer can also figure out why a claim for benefits was rejected, can help a person strengthen their claim, can make sure that a claim will be accepted, and can aid in finding other ways to get benefits or assistance if the individual is not eligible to receive benefits under the ADA.

What are Major Life Activities According to the ADA?

As discussed above, major life activities may include all sorts of tasks like climbing, driving, bending over, sitting, hearing, reaching, and concentrating. According to the ADA, major life activities might also refer to major bodily functions, such as the functioning of the immune, circulatory, reproductive, endocrine, and respiratory systems.

The reason why the ADA mentions major life activities is because it helps determine what rights a person may have under the law. For instance, in Title III of the ADA, the law explicitly mentions that certain public accommodations must provide specific services or auxiliary aids. 

As an example, if a person is visually impaired, then public accommodations that fall under the Act must allow for seeing-eye dogs, braille materials, voice communication software, and so on.

What Does the ADA Prohibit?

There are a number of different practices that the ADA prohibits. Specifically, in regard to the workplace, the ABA prohibits both public and private employers from discriminating against persons with disabilities. Some key aspects of employment in which the ADA aims to prevent discrimination from occurring include: 

  • An employer may not discriminate based on a disability during the job application process (e.g., tests, written questionnaires, interviews, etc.);
  • An employer can also not discriminate based on a disability when making decisions about hiring, firing, or promoting an employee;
  • An employer cannot refuse to give a qualified employee a work assignment just because of a disability; 
  • An employer can also not discipline an employee for their disability (e.g., cannot dock pay because their condition requires that they receive longer work breaks); and
  • An employer cannot provide less benefits or lower an employee’s salary due to a disability.

What is Reasonable Accommodation Discrimination?

According to Title I of the ADA, the phrase “reasonable accommodation” refers to any modification or adjustment made to a work environment, the hiring process, or how a job is done. The purpose of such accommodations is to ensure that disabled persons will not only have an equal opportunity to get a job, but will also be able to do their job as successfully as a person who does not have a disability could.

A person who requests an accommodation in the workplace must make sure that the request is one that is reasonable and will not place a heavy financial burden on the employer or their business operations. If an employee makes a request for a certain accommodation that is both reasonable and inexpensive and their employer still refuses to provide it, then the employer can be sued for reasonable accommodation discrimination. 

What are Examples of Reasonable Accommodations?

Some examples of reasonable accommodations include the following:

  • Flexible schedules, office locations, and/or more work breaks throughout the day that fit an individual’s needs;
  • Reduction or removal of distractions in the workplace (e.g., private office, “white noise” machine, cubicle stationed farther away from such distractions, etc.);
  • Removal or modification of non-essential job duties;
  • Permission to bring service animals to work;
  • Additional feedback about work performance or guided instructions for how to complete an assignment; and/or
  • Various other technologies or resources that will assist the individual in doing their job.

What are Some Consequences for Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Discrimination Violations?

Persons or entities who violate the ADA may face serious legal consequences. Some common examples of consequences that a person or entity can receive for violating the ADA include:

  • Civil penalties for a first time violation of up to $75,000;
  • Civil penalties of up to $150,000 for each subsequent violation; 
  • Lawsuits that could result in having to pay millions in monetary damages and legal fees;
  • Revocation of government funding (if applicable); and
  • Extensive costs to make adjustments to company policies or physical attributes of a location in order to comply with ADA requirements. 

Are there Any Defenses an Employer May Have Against an ADA Claim?

There are a number of defenses that an employer may be able to raise against an employee’s ADA claim. Some common defenses that may be available to a defendant employer include:

  • That the individual who is claiming they were discriminated against is not in fact disabled, or if they are, not with a condition that qualifies under the ADA;
  • That the conduct of the employer had nothing to do with discrimination, but was based on another legal reason (e.g., the employee was not doing their job properly);
  • That the accommodation that the individual requested would cause undue hardship on the employer and their business operations (e.g., the accommodation was unreasonable and too expensive);
  • That the accommodation requested is not feasible for the kind of work that needs to be performed; and/or
  • That the individual is not capable of doing the essential functions required by the job, regardless of whether they receive reasonable accommodations or not. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Pursue or Defend Against an Employment Discrimination Claim?

As is evident from the above discussion, the ADA offers individuals with disabilities many protections against discriminatory practices. The ADA strives to guarantee disabled persons equal treatment throughout many aspects of society; especially, those related to employment opportunities. 

The legal restrictions now included in the Act have come a long way since its passing and are constantly being updated to ensure that the strongest protections are afforded. However, due to the fact that the ADA is continuously updated and always expanding, it can be difficult to keep up with new changes in the law. Also, the definitions in the Act are often left vague for the purposes of broader application. 

Thus, if you or your loved one believes that they have been discriminated against on the basis of a disability, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local discrimination lawyer to obtain further legal advice. 

An experienced discrimination lawyer can review the facts of your case and can determine whether you have a viable claim against an entity or are eligible for certain benefits. Your lawyer can also inform you of your rights under the law and can help you file a lawsuit against any parties whom you feel are employing discriminatory practices.

Additionally, your lawyer will be able to provide representation in court and can assist you in recovering any damages that you may be owed.

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