Filing a disability discrimination charge can be simply unavoidable in some situations. When an employer steps outside the bounds of laws, regulations and guidelines at the state or federal level meant to protect the rights of disabled workers, it’s important to know there are ways to fight back. There are also times when a worker desires to keep a job even after launching a disability discrimination claim against an employer.

In these situations, it’s important to guard against the pitfalls of employer retaliation. It’s equally important to know the kinds of protection available when retaliation occurs as well as what to look out for when your employer engages in unfair behavior.

Disability Discrimination

The overall goal of all discrimination laws is to ensure that all workers are treated equally despite a number of protected differences, including age, sex, disability, religion, national origin and more.

Disability discrimination occurs at the federal level when an employer at a company with 15 or more workers singles out a worker for his or her disability and violates protected rights because of the disability. At the state level, covered employees may include companies with as few as five employees.

At the federal level, there are two main laws that govern disability discrimination. These are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Issues of leave and retaliation associated with leave for disabled and all employees is also covered in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

In addition, each state carries laws that cover disability discrimination, protecting workers at the state level from many of the same types of discrimination as federal laws. However, some state law is more extensive law than its federal counterpart. For example, in California, the discrimination law goes so far as to specifically protect workers dealing with issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in the workplace.

Main Issues in Disability Discrimination

The main disability discrimination issues concern the exact nature of disability (whether or not the condition is covered by state or federal law) and the nature of the employer’s behavior toward the complaining employee.

Issues can also arise concerning retaliation. Retaliation takes place when an employer discovers an employee has filed a disability discrimination claim or that an employee has or is participating in disability discrimination proceedings, and takes adverse action against the employee because of it. Retaliation can make it difficult, if not impossible, for employees to keep their jobs after filing an EEOC disability discrimination charge (or any other type discrimination charge) against an employer.

Disability Discrimination and Retaliation

According to the EEOC, “non-retaliatory and non-discriminatory reasons” are allowed when an employer desires to discipline an employee after he or she has filed an EEO complaint. The legal violations occur when an employer steps across the boundaries of an employee’s protection and punishes an employee specifically for participating in a discrimination complaint process or acting on “a reasonable belief” that an employer has violated EEO laws.

For an employee, reasons for retaliation can include a variety of situations, even beyond filing a charge or complaining about discrimination to a supervisor or manager. It may also include refusing to engage in discriminatory activity at a supervisor’s request or requesting accommodation for a disability.

When an employer decides that these perfectly legal activities should be answered with unfair behavior such as demotions, pay cuts and more, an employee might have grounds for a lawsuit.

Again, it’s important to keep in mind that not all employer behavior after an employee’s charge of disability discrimination counts as a violation of the law. Employers have the right to discipline employees and to reprimand employees when performance falls below job standards.

Only when an employer’s adverse actions toward an employee have a causal connection to the fact that the employee has filed a charge or acted on a reasonable belief that an employer has violated EEO laws can the employer’s actions give rise to a lawsuit.

Keeping Your Job After Retaliation

While many employers do strive to train their workers in the proper implementation of EEO guidelines concerning disability discrimination, there are some who either still fail to follow the law and even some who willfully engage in discriminatory and retaliatory behavior.

It is important for disabled workers to be aware of the many ways that an employer’s retaliatory behavior can become grounds for a lawsuit so that workers are prepared to protect themselves and their careers. One way to do so is to ensure a proper understanding of your Title VII and ADA rights concerning retaliation.

Another great way to stay protected, and keep your job, is to identify the necessary steps of filing a charge of retaliation with the nearest state or federal EEOC branch. Just as disability discrimination cases require filing a charge through your local EEOC office for proper investigation, charges of retaliation must also go through a thorough EEO investigation.

It’s also important to possess knowledge of the legal remedies available to those who file charges of retaliation. Under federal law, employees could be reinstated if they are fired as a result of retaliation, and they could receive back pay, front pay or even punitive damages if the court discovers that the employer’s actions were willful.

Successful retaliation claims also result in further remedies. For instance, employees may also be able to recover attorney’s fees and court costs. Additionally, most successful EEO claims also result in the enforcement of company-wide notices which must be posted in order to inform all employees of the specific charges against the company and ways that preventative measures are being taken in order to remedy the discrimination or retaliation.

Your Job, Your Rights

Employees who take the courageous step of filing a claim of disability discrimination against an employer or who choose to participate in a discrimination proceeding have rights in place at both the state and federal level designed to protect their jobs and their careers from an employer’s retaliatory behavior. When employees are equipped with the knowledge of theses rights and with the help of an experienced discrimination attorney, chances are their discrimination claims can be a success.