Articles Posted in Disability Discrimination

Workplaces are settings where people must find ways to work together if they are to achieve optimal success. Representing the flip side of this, many discrimination and harassment cases arise because of an unreasonable refusal to “work together” with an employee who had a disability. If you were that worker, you are entitled to take legal action and potentially recover substantial compensation for the harm you endured. Get in touch with an experienced New York disability discrimination lawyer today to find out more.

Some years ago, an employment attorney in another state opined that, in a lot of cases, employers find themselves facing discrimination or harassment litigation because of a failure to follow one simple rule: don’t be a schmuck. (The author didn’t say “schmuck,” but you get the point.) This is good advice that too often goes unheeded. Whether it is utterly unnecessary jokes about a worker’s race/sex/ethnicity/religion/etc. or excessive uncooperativeness toward an employee needing a disability accommodation, many cases come to exist because of entirely avoidable violations of the law.

Take, for example, the disability discrimination case of D.B., a stage manager for a major cable sports network. He had a medical condition, exacerbated by working in cold studios, that affected his skin. Indeed, the manager’s direct supervisor allegedly once asked him, in front of a sizable group of people, “What’s wrong with your skin?”

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Disability discrimination in the workplace can occur in many different ways. The disability that makes up the foundation of your lawsuit could be something chronic or, potentially, it could be very temporary. Whatever the particulars, if you’ve suffered disability discrimination on the job, you should contact a knowledgeable New York City disability discrimination lawyer and find out more about your legal options.

Often, in this blog, we look at court cases involving workers harmed by discrimination, so that you can see their circumstances and see how they, like you, may have the potential to achieve success through the legal system.

Sometimes, though, there are cases that are not employment discrimination matters but may still be of potentially massive importance to you as a New York City worker who may need to consider an employment discrimination lawsuit. The recent Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) case of one New York prisoner is an example of this kind of case.

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In civil litigation matters, including discrimination and harassment cases, attorneys make many assertions and arguments. To the ears of non-lawyers, some of those statements can seem extreme or inflammatory when, in actuality, they’re really mundane. At the same time, a lawyer might say something that sounds ordinary or trivial to a layperson that a skilled legal professional would immediately identify as grossly inappropriate and very important. That is just one of the countless reasons why you need an experienced New York discrimination lawyer handling your case.

A seasoned pro will both be able to spot those prejudicial comments and also know what to do about them. And knowing what to do is absolutely essential because, if you don’t take action at the right time, then that misstep may alone be enough to sink your argument, even if the other side said something completely improper.

The recent disability discrimination case of J.H., who was an Iraq War veteran, a sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a security worker for a New York State psychiatric center, is a good example. On multiple occasions, the man applied for a promotion but was never successful. A colleague testified that J.H. was denied his promotion because the agency’s decision-makers had doubts about his mental stability after his military service.

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The novel coronavirus, known more officially as SARS-CoV-2 and less officially as “the coronavirus,” has had a devastating impact on New York City and surrounding areas. While the daily number of new cases in New York is decreasing, the virus shows no sign of slowing down in many other parts of the country, even as most states are in the process of “reopening” their economies. The disease is bad enough by itself, but its supposed origins in China have also led to an unfortunate backlash against people perceived to be of Chinese heritage. In practice, this often means anyone who appears to have Asian ancestry, including in New York City. Discrimination, harassment, and worse have occurred in workplaces and in public. The New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which works to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and other factors, created a response team in April to address discrimination and harassment related to the pandemic. If you feel you have suffered from discrimination or harassment while at work based on real or perceived national origin, it is prudent that you speak with a New York City national origin discrimination attorney as soon as possible to go over your rights under the law.

Laws Against Race and National Origin Discrimination in the Workplace

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits workplace discrimination based on a person’s “actual or perceived…race…[or] national origin.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). This includes terminating someone’s employment, demoting them, denying them shifts or assignments, and other adverse actions, when the sole or primary purpose is that they are a particular race or have a particular national origin.

The coronavirus pandemic involves multiple forms of employment discrimination. The CHR has adopted guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) related to disability discrimination. The EEOC first published the guidelines in October 2009 in response to the H1N1 pandemic, and later adapted them for COVID-19. The CHR created the response team to look into anti-Asian bias.

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Most U.S. states now allow medical marijuana use to some extent, but marijuana remains strictly controlled under federal law. This creates a dilemma of sorts for employers. Mandatory drug testing is still a feature of many workplaces around the country, but if marijuana use is not always illegal, should it necessarily lead to firing or refusing to hire someone? The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that an individual who was terminated because of lawful medical marijuana use outside of work can bring a disability discrimination claim. New York disability discrimination attorneys have been able to draw on state law to protect their clients since 2014, when the state approved medical marijuana use with express non-discrimination provisions. New York City will soon offer even more protection with a new law banning the use of pre-employment marijuana tests.

Medical Marijuana and Disability Discrimination in New York State

New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program arose from the Compassionate Care Act (CCA), which became law in 2014. The CCA states that “certified patients” have a “disability” for the purposes of state antidiscrimination law. N.Y. Pub. Health L. §§ 3360(3), 3369(2). Under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), employers therefore may not discriminate against an employee or job applicant on the basis of lawful use of medical marijuana. N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(21), 296(1)(a).

New York City’s Ban on Pre-Employment Testing

In April 2019, the New York City Council passed a local law amending the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) to prohibit pre-employment testing for marijuana and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). See N.Y. Pub. Health L. §§ 3302(21), 3306(d)(21). The new law will become effective on May 10, 2020, one year after it became law.

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As of early 2020, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is continuing a downward trend that began several years ago. These numbers, however, usually only show the percentage of the population that is able to work and actively seeking work. It does not include people who are under-employed, can only find part-time or temporary work, or have given up on finding a job. The longer a person goes without a job, the more difficult it can be for them to find one. The New York City unemployment discrimination law is one of the few in the nation to protect against automatic dismissal of job applicants who have been out of work. This type of discrimination can not only perpetuate unemployment, it can also overlap with other types of unlawful discrimination.

Unemployment Discrimination Under New York City Law

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an individual’s unemployment. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(21). It defines unemployment as being out of work despite being able to start working and actively looking for a job. Id. at § 8-102.

Employers in New York City may not advertise that a job is only open to individuals who are not currently unemployed, or that they will not consider unemployed applicants. They may not base employment decisions, including hiring, rate of pay, and other matters, on an applicant’s unemployment. They may, however, inquire about why an applicant has been out of work. They may consider unemployment as a factor in their decision-making if they have “a substantially job-related reason for doing so.” Id. at § 8-107(21)(b)(1).

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Steven Fingerhut, an employment litigation associate at Phillips & Associates, recently offered advice to Super Lawyers as to how a person can tell if he or she has grounds to pursue a New York disability discrimination claim. Mr. Fingerhut was recently named to the New York Rising Stars by Super Lawyers, which is an honor reserved for the top attorneys in a practice area in each state.

Laws Protecting Workers with Disabilities

Mr. Fingerhut noted that local, state, and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against people with disabilities. For example, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSRHL), the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all protect people from disability-based workplace discrimination. In New York, to recover damages for a disability discrimination claim, you must prove that you meet the elements of a claim as defined by one of the anti-discrimination laws.

While each of the aforementioned laws prohibits discrimination against an individual with a disability, they all have a unique definition of what constitutes a disability. For instance, the ADA defines a disability as a physical, medical, or mental impairment that inhibits a person in performing a major activity of daily life. Some actions that are considered major activities of daily life are hearing, seeking, and walking. Additionally, a person is not only considered disabled for purposes of the ADA if he or she actually has a disability, but also if he or she is believed to have a substantial or permanent mental or physical impairment, regardless of whether the person actually has the impairment.

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Can an employer fire an employee for getting sick? This was the question addressed by Jesse Weinstein, a Litigation Associate at Phillips & Associates, in an article published by Lawyer Monthly online and in its June 2019 print issue. The answer, as with almost any legal question, is that it depends. As an “at-will employment” state, New York law allows employers to fire their employees for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as the decision does not violate laws against discrimination, retaliation, and related practices. Firing an employee because of an illness might violate the law if the employee’s illness is a legally-protected disability, or if the employee is entitled by law to medical leave with employment protection. New York City employment attorneys can choose from multiple statutes, from the local up to the national level, when advocating for their clients’ rights.

The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and defines the term broadly to include “any physical, medical, mental or psychological impairment.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102, 8-107(1)(a). Further, the law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, as well as workers who or pregnant or have recently given birth, to allow them to perform their job duties. Id. at §§ 8-107(15), (22). Employers are not obligated to accommodate employees if doing so would pose an undue hardship.

Statewide, the New York State Human Rights Law gives the term “disability” a narrower definition, applying it in part to “physical, mental or medical impairment[s]” that “prevent[] the exercise of a normal bodily function.” N.Y. Exec. L. § 292(21). The statute prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations except in cases of undue hardship. Id. at §§ 296(1)(a), (3).
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The holiday season means many different things to people: family, friends, food, a general sense of merriment, and so on. It also means that many employers will host holiday parties for their employees, managers, executives, and perhaps clients and customers. The “office holiday party” has a reputation, largely thanks to movies and television, as an unabashedly wild event free from customary rules and restrictions. It is our duty as New York City employment attorneys to remind everyone that the rules still apply, however wild the party might be. Harassment on the basis of any protected category is unlawful. We believe that holiday parties should be fun for everybody, meaning that the fun should never come at anyone’s expense.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. Other federal statutes prohibit age and disability discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that this includes harassment of any employee based on these factors, whether it comes from someone in a supervisory position or not. An employer may be liable in either situation if they are aware of the harassment and fail to make reasonable efforts to address it. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) protects a much broader range of categories than Title VII, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The EEOC has stated that isolated incidents, unless they are particularly severe, do not constitute violations of Title VII or other statutes. This generally applies to violations of the NYCHRL as well. Multiple acts of harassment become a violation of antidiscrimination law when they create a hostile work environment, or otherwise interfere with an employee’s ability to do their jobs.
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Pregnancy discrimination can take a number of different forms. When deciding which statutes to cite in a claim for New York pregnancy discrimination, employment attorneys must consider the types of discrimination covered by each law. Federal antidiscrimination law defines discrimination on the basis of sex to include discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, but this only addresses adverse employment actions like termination or refusal to hire. New York state and city law identify pregnancy as a distinct protected category, and also require reasonable accommodations for employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth. A lawsuit filed this summer in a New York state court alleges that an employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations in violation of the New York Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). Hoover, et al v. Wal-Mart Associates, Inc., et al, No. 18-44970, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Orleans Cty., Jul. 24, 2018).

The PWFA amended the New York State Human Rights Law to state that an employer commits an “unlawful discriminatory practice” when they “refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to [an employee’s]…pregnancy-related conditions.” N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(3)(a). State regulations prohibit employers from asking about the need for accommodations prior to hiring an individual. They also require employers “to move forward to consider accommodation once the need for accommodation is known or requested.” 9 NYCRR § 466.11(j)(4). The New York State Division of Human Rights describes this as an “interactive process” between the employer and the employee.

The plaintiffs in the Hoover case allege that their former employer’s attendance policy violated their rights under the PWFA by failing to accommodate their need to take time off from work for conditions related to pregnancy. The defendant’s policy assigns points to employees for work absences without prior approval. Accruing a certain number of points results in termination. While the policy identifies numerous authorized purposes for absences, “absences needed because of pregnancy-related conditions do not appear on” the list. Hoover, complaint at 5.
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