Hostile Work Environment—Disability Discrimination

Unfortunately, disability discrimination still happens on a regular basis in the United States. This can include an employer’s refusal to hire someone simply because he or she lives with a disability, or it can take the form of an employer refusing to make reasonable accommodations for a worker with a disability as required by law. Another less talked about, but still horrifying form of disability discrimination involves harassment based on a person’s disability, particularly harassment that results in a hostile work environment.

What Laws Protect Workers from Disability Discrimination?

People living with disabilities are protected from workplace discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People often think of this Act as being the law that requires elevators, ramps, and accessible restroom facilities in buildings, but it is a great deal more than that. The act also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and governmental activities.

A whole host of government agencies are involved with enforcing the ADA, but the main agency that deals with the discrimination portions is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the EEOC, harassment under the ADA is “unwelcome conduct that is based on … disability.” One type of harassment, hostile work environment harassment, occurs when harassment is “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” A petty slight or one time off-color comment is not enough to make a harassment claim, but a pervasive repetitive string of severe conduct is enough. Harassment can also occur after an employee has already made a different sort of discrimination claim. If an employee has already filed a discrimination complaint, and is then harassed about filing that complaint, that harassment is unlawful and is grounds for a second complaint.

The harasser in such a case is not always the employee’s direct supervisor. It can also be a supervisor from another part of the company, a co-worker, or even a non-employee.

Who is Covered by the ADA?

Many people are of the mistaken belief that a very limited class of people are covered by the ADA, but that is not the case. The ADA is not restricted only to people who use wheelchairs or only to people who have visual or auditory impairments. People who have a history of disability are covered by the act, and that can include people like employees who have had cancer but are currently in remission. Generally, three groups of people are covered by the ADA:

  1. People who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. People who have a record of such impairment; and
  3. People who are regarded as having such an impairment.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

Disability discrimination is still all too common. We here at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP have been handling disability discrimination matters for years, though, so we have the experience and expertise necessary to tackle even the toughest cases. If you would like our help, please call us at (503) 398-1130 or reach us online through our simple online form.