Proving Disability Discrimination
First, it’s important to note that not all disabilities qualify under disability discrimination law. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (along with its amendments in the ADA Amendments Act) govern qualifying disabilities. In order for the ADA to apply, a disability must be
- a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or
- a record of such an impairment, or
- the employer’s belief that such an impairment exist (the so-called “regarded as” disabled element)
It’s up to an employee to prove that each of these elements are in place in order to establish a disability discrimination claim. Even when a charge of disability discrimination is filed with the EEOC, these requirements must be met in order for the case to move forward.
Employees may also bring claims of retaliation or harassment in disability discrimination cases, and an employee may assert that an employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations for the disability. Each of these rights are protected under federal law in companies with 15 or more employees and in state law for businesses with as little as five (or fewer) employees.
When An Employer’s Defense Can Prevent Recovery
The overall goal in awarding damages in discrimination cases is to put the victim back in the position he or she would have been in had the discrimination not occurred.
An employer’s defenses to a disability discrimination claim are important even for a discussion of remedies available. This is because at least one employer’s defense can prevent an employee from recovering damages.
In a case involving a disabled employee’s request for reasonable accommodations, if an employer can prove that it engaged in good faith efforts to consult with the employee regarding the disability, the employee may not be able to recover compensatory or punitive damages. However, other non-compensatory and non-punitive remedies are still available. These may include backpay and reinstatement.
Remedies Available to Disability Discrimination Victims
Employees who successfully file disability discrimination claims have several remedies available. These include back pay, front pay, attorney’s fees and costs as well as injunctive and affirmative relief like reinstatement.
It’s important to note that most disability discrimination remedies hinge on an employee’s ability to show that the discrimination caused specific losses. For instance, to recover back pay or fringe benefits the employee must show that the loss of such compensation is a direct result of the discriminatory acts alleged in a disability discrimination claim.
As part of injunctive relief, the employer may be required to put a stop to specific, unlawful employment practices or policies, even while the case proceeds in court. Further relieve may include reinstating a terminated or demoted disabled employee or reaffirming his or her lost seniority. Remedies like this are referred to as “make whole” remedies due to their ability to restore the integrity of the employee’s position prior to the discrimination.
What are Compensatory Damages in a Disability Discrimination Case?
Any out-of-pocket expenses directly related to the the discrimination in a disability discrimination case are called compensatory damages. Compensatory damages also allow victims to recover for emotional harm, pain and suffering.
It’s important to point out that compensatory damages are not unlimited in disability discrimination cases. In fact, the law places certain caps on compensatory damages according to the number of employees employed by the accused company. These caps are as follows:
- For 15-100 employees $50,000 limit
- For 101-200 employees $100,000 limit
- For 201-500 employees $200,000 limit
- For 500 or more employees $300,000 limit.
Recovering punitive Damages in Disability Discrimination Cases
The same caps govern the amount of damages available for punitive damages in disability discrimination cases. Punitive damages are available when the discrimination involved is intentional and willful. These remedies are particularly indicated when an employer’s discriminatory behavior is so egregious the law should punish it for it’s actions or inactions. Such discriminatory acts may include reckless or malicious harassment and discrimination.
To recover punitive damages, the employee must show that the employer acted with knowledge of the laws implicated. For instance, an employer may show that a manager recklessly disregarded laws he admittedly knew about in order to willfully exclude blind employees from certain positions. However, it is not necessary for the employee to prove that the employer had actual knowledge of the law. Simply showing that the employer knew it might be violating the law in taking the action it did is sufficient.
Vicarious Liability in Disability Discrimination Cases
One important factor in discrimination cases is that of vicarious liability of the employer. This means that in order for a claim to be successful (and damages to be recovered), an employee must show that the actions of the managers, supervisors, co-workers or staff accused can be attributed to the company. This means there must be a showing that the company had immediate authority or control over the accused employee or that the accused employee believed this authority was in place in order for courts to impute liability to the employer.
Remedies of Disability Discrimination Claim
When it comes to recovering damages for disability discrimination, employees have several remedies available. It’s most important to locate an experienced disability discrimination attorney to help determine which remedies are best in your case and to ensure that you recover all the damages available under the law.