When an employer repeatedly denies a disabled worker’s promotion simply due to his or her disability, it’s a violation federal and state laws prohibiting such discrimination. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the laws designed to protect disabled workers and their promotion rights in the workplace.
Title VII and Disabled Workers
Often considered the mainstay for employee rights in the workplace, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains provisions prohibiting disability discrimination in hiring, firing and promotions as well as almost every other aspect of employment. The federal law applies to companies in all states with 15 or more workers.
In addition, many state laws modeled after Title VII cover companies with fewer workers. For instance, in California the main employment discrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) also includes provisions prohibiting discrimination based on disability and the law also covers promotion decisions for disabled workers.
Under both federal and state laws, disabled workers denied promotion simply because of their disability can recover a variety of damages. Economic and even emotional damages from denied promotions are known as compensatory damages and are fully recoverable in disability discrimination cases. Punitive damages may also apply when promotions are denied due to disabilities or other forms of discrimination (See, for example, EEOC v. US Dry Cleaning Services (pdf)).
The ADA and the ADAA
In addition to Title VII and state disability discrimination law, at least one other federal law may apply when an employer denies promotion due to a worker’s disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act (ADAA) both work to protect workers with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace.
Under these laws, disabled workers must have a qualifying disability. The law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Workers must also be able to perform the tasks required for the job with or without accommodations. If accommodations are necessary, workers have the right to request them and the employer is obligated to provide them unless doing so poses an undue hardship on the business.
When Promotions Aren’t Granted Due to Disability
The denial of promotion for disabled workers was recently highlighted in a case involving a disability service company. These service companies help position disabled workers for employment, but they can also attach stigmas to workers that draw the discriminatory attentions of employers.
The case involved a disabled worker, Teslow with cognitive disabilities denied promotion due to his status as a client of a disabled service company, Opportunity Partners. Teslow has filed a formal charge of disability discrimination under Minnesota state law with Department of Human Affairs.
Such cases highlight the way that employers can unfairly exclude disabled workers from promotions. They also show how devastating it can be when these workers are denied promotions simply due to their disabilities. Fortunately, disabled workers have rights that even the most reluctant employers and employment agencies must adhere to in order to avoid costly litigation.
Taking Wise Legal Action
What can a worker do when he or she is repeatedly denied promotion based on disability? The legal options available are numerous, but it’s important to take the right steps at the outset to avoid mistakes in the process.
If your company has special grievance procedures, become familiar with them. Filing a grievance helps report your disability discrimination allegations to the proper administrators and helps build a record of your complaint that could be useful later. Once a report is filed, the employer’s response becomes a key factor in the way your situatiion unfolds.
If the employer fails to respond or denies the allegations or argues unfairly that the promotion denial is not due to a disability, a worker may take things one step further and file a formal charge with the appropriate state department or with the EEOC. These agencies will then proceed to conduct their own investigations to determine whether or not representation is appropriate under the circumstances.
When the EEOC determines that your claim does not warrant representation, there are still legal options available. The agency will issue a Right to Sue Notice which allows workers to pursue their claims in a court a law.
Working with the EEOC
The EEOC has helped countless disabled employees fight unfair discrimination in the workplace, including promotion denials. In fact, the number of discrimination claims filed with the EEOC has recently been on the rise, increasing 6 percent in 2015. The EEOC collected close to $129 million in damages on behalf of disabled workers with a little over 6,000 cases resolved in their favor last year.
Any disability discrimination claim must first be filed the either the state or federal EEOC agency before coming to court. This means working with the EEOC is top priority when a worker has been repeatedly denied promotion. Find more information about access to federal and state EEOC offices here.
Disabled and Denied Promotion: Know Your Rights
When your promotion is repeatedly denied simply because of a disability, it’s important to know your rights. Disabled workers have a right to be promoted based on their ability to perform the tasks required. An employer’s disability biases should not interfere with the decision-making process and when they do, workers have the right to complain and file formal charges with the appropriate state or federal agencies.