Woman Allowed to Maintain Claim of “Regarded As” Disability Discrimination After Termination

In order to combat various forms of employment discrimination at work, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While this law makes certain forms of discrimination illegal such as race, color, sex and national origin it does not include disability discrimination. Accordingly, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make disability discrimination illegal. The ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals with a disability” in the terms and conditions of employment. The ADA also prohibits disability harassment and retaliation against you for complaining about disability discrimination or for participating in someone else’s disability discrimination case.

Additionally the ADA has evolved to prohibit discrimination based on stereotypes and unfounded concerns about an individual’s medical condition and medical history. This is sometimes referred to as a “regarded as” disabled claim. “Regarded as” situations includes scenarios where a worker isn’t actually disabled, and you don’t have a history or record of disability, but your employer regards or perceives you as being disabled. This may happen where an employee may have HIV or AIDS, and this condition does not affect him or her (or other employees) in any way, but due to unfounded fears or stereotypes held by the employer, the employer believes that the employee is disabled. If such an employer were to take an adverse action against such an employee based on this perception that could violate the ADA.

If you have questions about disability discrimination or believe that you have suffered illegal disability discrimination at work, it’s a good idea to consult with a top Atlanta disability discrimination lawyer right away.

A recent case out of New York examined “regarded as” disabled claims. In Nelson v. City of New York, a federal court determined that a police officer could maintain her lawsuit that she was fired after being wrongly perceived to have a mental disorder. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that even if the evidence did not support the woman’s assertion that the New York Police Department viewed her as having a mental disorder, there was “abundant” proof that city doctors denied her request to be reinstated because of her “extensive psychological history.”

This case is particularly interesting given the court’s description of this case as raising questions at the “outer limits” of disability discrimination law, the court found that employees asserting “regarded-as disabled claims” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act do not need to show that their employer’s adverse employment action was fueled by discriminatory intent.

The court explained that it is wrong for an employer to take discriminatory action even if it is acting innocently on a misperception. He cited Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interpretive guidance on the issue as well as nonbinding decisions by courts outside the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

For more information about disability discrimination or if you believe that you have suffered any form of disability discrimination, please contact the top Georgia disability discrimination lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.