Intellectual and Learning Disabilities Emerge as Major Employment Discrimination Enforcement Trends
Banner Health, one of the nation’s largest non-profit healthcare systems, has agreed to pay $255,000 to settle claims that it discriminated against an employee with an “intellectual disability” when it fired him instead of providing "supervision sensitive to his needs." This case is part of a new trend in intellectual and learning disability litigation emerging from amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act that expanded the definition of disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities. It requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to enable such a disabled employee to work.
A disability is a “physical or mental impairment” that substantially limits one or more major life activities or that did so in the past.
Regulations that went into effect in May 2011 define a “physical or mental impairment” as any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability (formerly called mental retardation), organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. The definition includes bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder.
Legal experts believe that the new regulations are meant to include learning disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and other impairments that affect an employee’s ability to read, concentrate, think, communicate, and interact with others.
For example, an employee whose ADD affects his ability to concentrate may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation such as permission to wear noise-canceling headphones or listen to music to improve his concentration at work.
It is too soon to tell the precise scope of intellectual and learning disabilities that are protected under the new regulations. But one thing is clear: This is a major area of enforcement interest for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Announcing the recent $225,000 settlement with Banner Health, the EEOC pledged “to vigorously pursue” all forms of employment discrimination, including discrimination based on intellectual or learning disabilities. EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said, “This case demonstrates that when employees, in particular one with an intellectual disability, are prevented from working because of an unlawful reason, they will be protected under the law.”
Please be aware that there are strict time limits for asserting a charge of employment discrimination. If you believe that you or someone you care for has been discriminated against based on an intellectual or learning disability, then you should consult with an experienced attorney immediately to protect your rights. To schedule a free initial consultation by telephone or in person, call my office today at (212) 601-2728 or click here to communicate with me via email.
New York, New York
Sources: EEOC Press Release; ADA Amendments Act of 2008; Regulations To Implement the Equal Employment Provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 29 CFR 1630
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