Discrimination

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. Discrimination happens when you are treated unfairly or unequally because of your disability. There are many ways that an employer can discriminate against you, including:

  • Intentionally not giving you the same job opportunities or benefits as nondisabled coworkers, such as
    • A job
    • A promotion
    • A competitive salary
  • Unintentionally denying you job opportunities or benefits
  • Retaliating against you (getting back at you) because of your disability, which can include:
    • Coercion, which means forcing you to do something against your will
    • Intimidation, which means frightening or bullying you to follow the employer’s demands
    • Harassment, which means bothering you with unwanted actions or demands
  • Interfering with you, which means making it impossible for you to enjoy the same rights and benefits at work as your nondisabled coworkers

Intentional discrimination happens for many reasons. For example, when an employer does not want to pay for your reasonable accommodations or looks down on you because you are disabled, the employer may do something on purpose to you that is unfair.

Unintentional discrimination usually happens because an employer evaluates or promotes employees in a way that puts disabled people at a disadvantage. The employer usually does not mean to discriminate and does not realize that certain actions or practices are discriminatory.

Example

An employer who is hiring heavy equipment operators requires job applicants to take a written test. If a job applicant with dyslexia takes the test, he could be denied the job because he has difficulty reading. This would be unintentional discrimination, because the ability to perform on a written exam is not an important skill for operating heavy machinery. The practice of requiring the written exam puts an entire group at an unfair disadvantage due to their disability. If an exam is necessary, the employer must offer the test in an alternate format that would best accommodate the applicant.

Retaliation by an employer may happen if a person with a disability or someone on their behalf filed a complaint, gave evidence, or otherwise participated in an investigation to enforce the ADA.

How Do I File a Complaint?

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your disability, you can file a complaint with the EEOC or the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC).

You have to file your discrimination complaint within a certain amount of time or you lose your right to sue. To file your complaint with the EEOC, you have to do so within 300 days (or 10 months) of the date you were discriminated against. You should not wait for the deadline to get too close; file your complaint as soon as you have decided that it is necessary to do so. Contact information for the EEOC is included later in this article.

If it is proven that you have been discriminated against, you have the right to a solution that will place you in the position you would have been in if the discrimination had never happened. This means you may be entitled to get hired, back pay, or reasonable accommodations. You may also qualify to have the employer pay your lawyer’s fees. To find out whether you qualify as having been discriminated again, contact the EEOC or FEHC.

California, the ADA, and the FEHA

California's definition of disability is broader than the federal standard. California’s disability laws and rules direct private businesses and nonprofits, as well as the government, to go beyond the ADA, giving additional protections to employees of businesses in California. The law that addresses the rights of persons with disabilities and the obligations of employers in California is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) is the office charged with helping you with the FEHA.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

To file a discrimination charge through the EEOC, you can contact any EEOC field office, located in cities throughout the United States or call them at 1-800-669-4000 (TTY 1-800-669-6820).

The EEOC’s website includes good information about how the actual process of filing a complaint works.

Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC)

To file a discrimination charge through the FEHC, you can contact them

  • By mail at 455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 10600, San Francisco, CA 94102,
  • By phone at 1-800-884-1684

The FEHC website has a page dedicated to explaining the steps in filing a complaint. It includes links to contact them.

Should I file my complaint with the EEOC or the FEHC?

It may seem confusing that there are two very similar laws and agencies that protect individuals with disabilities. You may wonder which one is the best. The truth is that the laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), go together. The agencies enforcing these laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), actually work together when you file a claim of discrimination. So, in most cases it doesn’t matter which office you choose to file your complaint with.

What you should do when you file a claim with either agency is to tell them to “cross-file” with the other agency. That means that they’ll make sure that your complaint is actually filed with both agencies.

However, there is one significant difference between the two laws: the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. If you work for a smaller employer, you should file your complaint with the FEHC.

The State of California has a full list of links through the Disability Access Info website that provide more information about filing a claim. Here are some details about the sections on the website:

  • Disability laws regarding employment has the actual text of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. This can be pretty complicated reading, but if you need the Act itself for reference it is available online.
  • Resources for employment issues lists links to several resources, including some EEOC publications. It also includes links to information about reasonable accommodations.

Also on the Disability Access Info website is a list of disability laws and regulations, in case you want to review all of the laws that apply to people with disabilities in California.

Filing a complaint if you work for the federal government

The ADA does not apply to the federal government. However, the federal government has to follow a very similar law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you work or are applying for a job with the federal government and think that you have been discriminated against because you have a disability, you cannot file your complaint with the EEOC. Instead, you need to file a complaint with the federal agency the employer is part of. This website — Overview of Federal Sector EEO Complaint Process — is a brief article explaining this process.

Protection and Advocacy

You can also contact Disability Rights California when you have questions or problems with reasonable accommodations at work or when you think you are being treated unfairly because of your disability.

Additional Resources

In California, el Departamento de Rehabilitación (DOR) can give you additional information about the ADA and other laws that protect your rights.