WHAT IS Disability Discrimination?

Disability Discrimination In California

Disabilities can take many forms and can add stress to many parts of your life. However, an unfavorable working environment should not be one of them. Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), employees with disabilities have been protected in the workforce. Employers have also learned to respect the rights of disabled employees and have learned how to accommodate those who may need additional help. 

Nonetheless, discrimination towards those with disabilities still occurs today. If you feel you have been treated unfairly by your employer due to your disability, then you should consult with an employment lawyer immediately. 

Definition of Disability

Legal Definition of "Disability"

A “DISABILITY” under California law is any mental, psychological or physical condition that limits a “major life activity.”

  • Major Life Activity” is construed broadly by the law and can include: working, eating, seeping, walking, concentrating, bending, pushing/pulling, etc.
  • Perceived Disability:” it is also illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee who they perceive as disabled, even if that employee not actually disabled.


Examples of Mental/Psychological Disabilities

The following mental disabilities are protected in accordance to California law under The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990:

  • Anxiety, Panic or Stress Disorders*
  • Depression
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
*NOTE: Unspecified “stress” alone (i.e. without some official related diagnosis), is not usually considered to be a disability.
Examples of Physical Disabilities
The following physical disabilities are also protected in accordance to California law under The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990:
  • Back Pain
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Hepatitis 
  • Heart Disease
  • Epilepsy 
  • Cancer
  • Loss of Limbs
  • Mobility Impairment
  • Diabetes
  • Autism
  • HIV/AIDS Infection
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy

If you feel you are disabled due to pregnancy, go to our Pregnancy Discrimination page for more information.

If you have one of the aforementioned medical conditions and your employer is harassing you, refusing to accommodate you, threatening to cut your pay or trying to demote you due to your condition, then contact a highly skilled disability attorney today.

Examples of Common Workplace Disability Discrimination

1. Inadequate Accommodation

You have probably heard the term reasonable accommodation before. In California, employers are required to grant reasonable accommodations to disabled employees as long as it will help them perform their essential job duties.

Employers have an affirmative duty to provide reasonable accommodations unless they can show it would cause a significant hardship or expense to do so.

Some examples of reasonable accommodation can be allowing an individual more breaks throughout the day, modifying work schedules or even purchasing assistive devices or technology. Notably, a finite medical leave of absence and/or additional medical leave is also considered a reasonable accommodation. 

If your employer refuses to accommodate to your reasonable needs, you may have a claim.


2. Termination or Demotion After Taking a Medical Leave

Probably one of the most common types of disability discrimination cases occur when an employer terminates a disabled employee shortly after learning they are disabled or after that employee has taken a medical leave of absence. 



It is always illegal to harass and employee or applicant due to an existing or perceived disability.  Therefore, even if an employer believes an employee or applicant has a disability, discriminates against them, and they do not have that disability, it is still grounds for a disability discrimination claim. Harassment is considered illegal when it is severe or frequent enough that it creates a hostile working environment and either results in a termination or a demotion of the employee’s position.

Harassment can come in many forms but a common example includes a superior making offensive remarks over a course of time to a person with disabilities. The harasser could be a co-worker, a supervisor, a supervisor in another department or even a customer or client. If your employer does not take prompt and appropriate corrective action, they could be liable and you may be able to file a claim against them.


3. Retaliation

It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for speaking out against disability discrimination, even if they were ultimately in the wrong about the discrimination or the discrimination did not involve the employee. Management also cannot threaten to fire an employee for filing a complaint. 

Retaliation could manifest as anything from not giving someone a promotion or pay raise due to going to HR about a discrimination issue to not inviting those who are being retaliated against to a weekly meeting that they were always welcome at before. Proving that your employer is retaliating against you can be a very complicated process, therefore we recommend calling a skilled discrimination lawyer right away.

Should I Speak to A California Discrimination Lawyer?

We at Odell Law want to ensure that you’re being treated fairly by your employer. Experiencing disability discrimination at work can be extremely stressful and challenging to overcome. Trying to file a claim against an employer can be awfully complex and time consuming, especially if you’re still working or in search of another job. 

Often, disability discrimination can be subtle and near impossible to prove on your own. Therefore, we highly recommend consulting with an experienced discrimination lawyer, like Robert Odell, that can help you through the process as effortless as possible. Our lawyers have the knowledge to help you file for a claim and receive the most value for all of your lost wages, pain and suffering that you may have faced at the hands of your employer.

Discrimination claims have time limits that you must adhere to. If you fail to submit your claims before their deadlines, you may not be able to pursue your claim any further.  An experienced and knowledgable discrimination lawyer, like us here at Odell Law, can help you file your claims within the appropriate time allotted. Therefore, if you’ve experienced disability discrimination, it is extremely important to call an attorney right away to see if you have a case.