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Discrimination and retaliation often go hand in hand

Disability is a protected class under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This protects disabled workers from discrimination. Unless the employee is unable to perform an essential job function, accommodations should be made to fit the worker's situation. It's not always the case, though. Sometimes a disabled employee will make a claim or request assistance, only to be denied and then punished for their action. All too often, discrimination claims become retaliation claims.

Avoid excessive standing or walking

One example involves SleepMed Inc., who requested that an employee escort patients through the building after greeting them. The escorting job function took only five to ten minutes per shift and was not included as an essential function in the job description. Because of knee problems, the employee couldn't escort patients. She filed an ADA claim with the help of her doctor but, instead of finding permanent accommodations for the employee's health, the company insisted that she escort patients although they had received physician and ADA paperwork. SleepMed fired her two months after she filed a discrimination claim with the EEOC.

Limitation of major life activities

Another example is Textron, who rescinded a job offer to a former employee upon discovery of a medical leave taken for a stomach ulcer at a previous job. The original FMLA leave was because the ulcer made eating and digestion--major life activities--difficult. The company reversed its decision nearly a month after his employment offer, saying, "You know what's in your file." Because the rescission implied his medical leave affected the decision, it implies both discrimination (for rejecting an employee based on a protected condition) and for retaliation (for rescinding the offer in response based on his prior use of FMLA leave).

Enforcing ADA protection

Both cases were ADA violations where the employers failed to accommodate for individual needs and also punished their employees for requesting those rights be honored. Each case is different, but with underlying connections that illustrate the discrimination and retaliation cycle.

It can be hard to understand your individual rights as an employee. Defining an essential job function or determining why an employer makes a specific request can be difficult. All workers have equal right to a job. If you can do the essential job functions as well as anyone else (including with assistance or equipment related to your disability), your disability should not affect the company's decision-making. Anyone who has felt unsafe or undermined based on your condition should speak with an attorney to learn more about your rights under the law.

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