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Disability Discrimination In The Workplace - A Guide For California Employees

Updated: Feb 26

Tips From Pre-Screneed Los Angeles Employment Lawyers


Workplace disability discrimination occurs when a company fires or demotes an employee because of his or her disability, even when the employee can do the job like any other employee. It can also occur when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation so that they can do the job properly and the request is denied.


Discrimination against disabled workers in California is very common. This guide provides you, the employee, with a basic knowledge of your legal rights, and give you a roadmap of what to do if you feel you are being discriminated against at your job because of your disability.


Each disability claim is different so the information on this page should not be a substitute for discussing your case in more detail with a California employment discrimination lawyer or law firm.



California’s laws make it illegal for companies to fire a disabled employee if they are able to do perform their job. Companies are not allowed to terminate a disabled employee even if they are unable to do the essential functions of their job, but could if provided with a reasonable accommodations.


Employment discrimination laws against disabled employees can be found in the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”) § 12940. Your Los Angeles Employment Lawyer will be able to assess your case and determine what laws were violated in your case.


FEHA offers more protection to California’s employees than the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). It offers a wider protection and it also applies to companies with less employees. Also, FEHA is stronger than Title VII, which caps employee’s damages.

California’s laws are employee friendly and offer broader protection to employees who experience disability discrimination in the workplace.


What's Considered a Disability Under California Law?


California’s disability discrimination laws define “disabilities” into three categories: physical disability, mental disability, and medical conditions. It's important to speak to a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer with experience in disability discrimination because what constitutes a disability is sometimes complicated and a difficult to define for non-lawyers.


Physical disability: any physiological disease, disorder, condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss that” affects one or more body systems and limits a major life activity. Limiting “a major life activity” means that it “makes the achievement of the major life activity difficult.”


Mental disability: any mental or psychological disorder or condition, such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, or specific learning disabilities, that limits a major life activity.


Medical condition: any health impairment related to or associated with a diagnosis of cancer or a record or history of cancer, or genetic characteristics.


Genetic characteristics are when an individual has a gene or inherited characteristic that is associated with a statistically increased risk of the development of a disease or condition.



What are Reasonable Accommodations?


It is illegal for employers in California “to refuse to make reasonable accommodation for the known disability of an employee.” The only exception to this rule is if the accommodation will result in undue hardship to the business’ operation.


The main point about "reasonable accommodation" is that the employee must request it. If you do not request the accommodation, the company will not be liable for not providing it to you. It is also illegal for an employer in California to retaliate against the employee for requesting reasonable accommodations.


The Interactive Process


Employers in California must also work with disabled employees to find a reasonable accommodation. This is known as the “interactive process” and can be found in California Government Code 12940(n).


It is illegal for the employer to “fail to engage in a timely manner, in good faith, interactive process with the employee to determine effective reasonable accommodations, if any, in response to a request for reasonable accommodation by an employee with a known physical or mental disability or known medical condition.

After your Los Angeles Employment Lawyer and you have decided on a plan of action, they will begin to collect the documents and evidence you have including a timeline of events, any SMS messages, emails or documented interactions, and your employee file if it's available.


At that point, your attorney will file your lawsuit with the court by creating and submitting a “complaint.” This complaint contains some basic facts of the case, describing who was negligent, the facts surrounding your claim, and the outcome.


Once the complaint has been filed, your disability discrimination attorneys have a time limit to “serve” your employer with the complaint. Now, your employer has to respond to the complaint. Your employer will probably try to get the case thrown out around by refusing responsibility, the discovery process kicks off.


The discovery process is when your disability discrimination attorneys and the opposing counsel exchange evidence. There are questions chosen by your attorneys, questions required to be answered by the state (form interrogatories), a request by the attorneys for the other party to admit certain facts, and requests for production of supporting documentation.


This is also the time in when depositions are taken which are interviews, under oath, that your attorney will accompany you to.


After discovery, your disability discrimination attorney will have a good feeling where your case stands, this is when most settlements occur. Both attorneys will be involved in employment mediation and mandatory settlement conferences with a judge to see if a pre-trial resolution is feasible. If this fails, your case will go to trial.


How Much Is Your Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Worth?


Your Los Angeles Employment Lawyer will be able to help you get compensated for the wages that you would have made if you had not been subjected to disability discrimination. Another form of compensation that you may be able to recover from your disability discrimination in the workplace case is pain and suffering.


The Statute of Limitations


You have one year from the date you were terminated to acquire a right-to-sue letter.


Usually, your attorney will get this for you, but if you already have one be sure to let your attorney as soon as possible. Upon receiving a right-to-sue letter, you have one year to file your case in court.


These timelines are different for public entities. In those cases, the statute of limitations may be six months. For this reason, it is important that you hire a pre-screened Los Angeles Employment Lawyer as soon as possible.


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