What It Takes for a Condition to Be a Qualifying ‘Disability’ in a Discrimination Lawsuit in New York

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?”

The manager subsequently sought an accommodation for his condition, seeking an assignment to a warmer studio. The supervisor demanded a doctor’s note. That part of the employer’s action was reasonable and appropriate. New York law is very clear that your employer may demand “reasonable substantiation” of your disability before providing you with an accommodation.

D.B. complied, submitting a note that said that his condition’s “triggers include cold air, cold temperatures, and air conditioning along with multiple airborne allergens.” The doctor expressly recommended that the manager avoid those “triggers, both at home and at work, to prevent his medical conditions from being exacerbated.”

That, allegedly, was where the reasonable and appropriate responses stopped. According to the stage manager, he never received the accommodation he requested and he still had to work in cold studios. Instead of receiving an accommodation, he was badgered, berated, and physically struck by a new stage manager, according to the lawsuit. When he complained, his supervisor allegedly forced him to undergo “work ethics” education, while taking no action against the other man.

These assertions, according to the trial court, made a viable claim for disability discrimination under both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.

A ‘Disability’ in New York State Must Impair ‘Normal Bodily Function’

The disability that D.B. presented was a qualifying one under New York law. It is important to understand that not all conditions may qualify as a “disability” under the law. State law says that, to meet the necessary requirements, a disability must be something that “prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques.”

The manager properly alleged that he had a medical condition that, when it flared up, caused overwhelming “congestion, running nose, skin rashes, swelling of the eyes, and other symptoms” that made it extremely difficult for D.B. to do his job and, sometimes, negatively affected his ability to breathe generally. That was sufficient to meet the criteria of a “disability” under state law.

Under the NYCHRL, a disability is “any physical, medical, mental or psychological impairment,” meaning “an impairment of any system of the body; including, but not limited to, the neurological system; the musculoskeletal system; the special sense organs and respiratory organs, including, but not limited to, speech organs; the cardiovascular system; the reproductive system; the digestive and genito-urinary systems; the hemic and lymphatic systems; the immunological systems; the skin; and the endocrine system.”

All of the same factual allegations that D.B. presented that established the sufficiency of his disability under the criteria of state law also demonstrated that the worker had enough under the NYCHRL, as well.

If you have a disability in New York, then you are entitled to seek a workplace accommodation based on that disability. If you are denied that accommodation, that denial may be a violation of the law. Success in a disability discrimination lawsuit involves in-depth knowledge about what evidence, and which legal arguments, are needed to defeat the other side and achieve a positive result. Count on the skilled New York disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to be the sort of knowledgeable and effective advocate you need for success. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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