Recently, a children’s hospital in California settled a disability discrimination lawsuit with a former employee who was fired because she needed extra time to receive treatment for breast cancer. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the lawsuit, the hospital fired the employee because she needed to take a medical leave that exceeded the hospital’s six-month limit. After the employee was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she was granted two months’ leave for a double mastectomy. However, when her treatment required her to take additional time off, she was fired because her managers believed that she looked too fragile to successfully return to work afterwards.
Cancer is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it limits the basic life activity of cell growth. By terminating her, the hospital violated the ADA; as a consequence, it must now pay the employee $300,000 in damages, and develop a new policy for accommodating disabilities. The hospital will also have to periodically report its activities to the EEOC and provide anti-discrimination training to its staff. After the settlement was made, EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo that the case “should emphasize to employers that a request for extended leave can be considered a reasonable accommodation in cases of serious medical illness or injury.”
Who qualifies under the ADA?
The ADA does not have a clear-cut list of disabilities. The definition of disability is determined on a case-by-case basis, but several requirements apply. In order to show that he or she has a disability, an employee must demonstrate that one of the following applies:
- He or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially hinders one or more major life activities, such as talking, hearing, walking, or learning.
- He or she has record of a disability – for example, cancer in remission.
- He or she is believed to have a physical or mental disability (even if no such impairment exists)
Not all individuals with disabilities are protected by the ADA. In order to qualify for protection, an employee must be able to perform the basic activities of a job, with or without reasonable accommodations. These basic activities must be fundamental parts of the job; an employer cannot fire a disabled employee for being unable to perform non-essential duties.
What are “reasonable accommodations”?
The ADA and New York State and City laws require that employers make exceptions to their policies, provide equipment, or modify workspaces to allow employees with disabilities to perform the basic functions of their jobs. These changes, called reasonable accommodations, can take many different forms. Some examples of reasonable accommodations that individuals with disabilities might need are:
- Leave to recover from a treatment for cancer
- More breaks for rest
- Flexible scheduling for doctors’ appointments
- Modification of a workspace to be more physically suitable
- Reassignment of non-essential components of the job to other workers
The only reason that an employer can refuse to provide reasonable accommodations is if it can prove that doing so would cause undue hardship for the business. What constitutes undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis, and depends on factors such as the business’s size, finances, resources, and structure.
Disability discrimination is illegal
If your employer has discriminated against you because of your disability, you should consider legal action as a means of recovering your damages. The lawyers at Akin Law Group are ready to use their extensive legal knowledge and courtroom experience to fight for your rights. Call us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss the details of your case.