The question of what is a disability, and what can be done to make accommodations for that disability at work, can sometimes be unclear. And nowhere is this more true than in California. California employment law offers a wide range of legal protections for workers who can establish a valid claim for disability discrimination at work. But what constitutes disability discrimination under California law?

This article will answer your questions about workplace disability discrimination laws, specifically for employees in California.

The question of what is a disability, and what can be done to make accommodations for that disability at work, can sometimes be unclear. And nowhere is this more true than in California. California employment law offers a wide range of legal protections for workers who can establish a valid claim for disability discrimination at work. But what constitutes disability discrimination under California law?

This article will answer your questions about workplace disability discrimination laws, specifically for employees in California.

What are California Disability Discrimination Laws?

The primary bulwark against disability discrimination in California is the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which was passed in 1974. Since then, California has been a pioneer in guaranteeing that individuals with disabilities have equal access to employment.

California disability discrimination laws offer more protections to employees than federal law, as well. While many workers are familiar with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” But under FEHA, a disability is defined as impairment that makes performance of any major life activity “difficult.” This means that under California employment law, workers with a wide range of disorders, diseases, and conditions would be deemed to have a disability – not just those with physical or mental impairments.

California law also protects employees from discrimination based on their need to care for people who have disabilities (example: employee’s wife has a physical impairment). In addition to that, it is unlawful for a California employer to fail to provide you with a reasonable accommodation if you have a disability or medical condition unless doing so would cause undue hardship for your employer.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

Reasonable accommodation can be defined as assistance or changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do his or her job despite having a disability.
Whether or not something is “reasonable” is often a question of fact for the jury. Likewise, the definition of what constitutes a “disability” itself is sometimes very hotly contested by respondents/employers. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission has stated that determining whether an employee meets the definition of a disability should not require “extensive analysis.” But, in practical terms, extensive analysis is sometimes necessary step in determining whether a person meets the threshold of a disability and, if so, what accommodations can then be made on his or her behalf.

What are Examples of Disability Discrimination in California?

Let’s say you are being treated unfairly at work due to your disability, and you want to make a claim against your employer. How do you know if your employer is actually violating the law? It is difficult to be certain, as every situation is different when it comes to workplace discrimination. The following real disability discrimination cases can help shed some light into what constitutes unlawful disability discrimination in California.

The EEOC helped Eldridge Davis, a driver for Pepsi Bottling Group, Inc., obtain a $120,000 disability discrimination settlement. Davis’ lawsuit alleged that he was denied reasonable accommodation and wrongfully terminated. Davis says he followed company procedure to inform his supervisor that his disability prevented him from finishing his route and that he needed to take medical leave, but Pepsi fired him for “job abandonment.” According to the EEOC, medical leave is a widely recognized accommodation and in Davis’ case, something that could’ve been easily granted.

In another California disability discrimination case, the EEOC settled a $132,500 suit against Tarsadia Hotels. The suit was filed on behalf of a hotel clerk with autism who was denied reasonable accommodation, disciplined unfairly and then fired because of his disability. The hotel clerk had prior hotel work experience in a similar position where his work earned him positive recommendations. But soon after he started his job with Tarsadia, the employee sought free job coach services from the state, which would have helped him master his job by using training techniques for those with autism. Tarsadia refused the assistance of a job coach and then fired the autistic employee.

Taking legal action against a past or present employer can be a frightening proposition. The risk of losing the claim is one thing, and the feelings of shame and embarrassment are something else, altogether. Fortunately, the mechanisms in place for addressing disability discrimination in California are much stronger than just about everywhere else. Anyone considering this course of action is encouraged to talk to an employment attorney first, to learn about what remedies the state’s laws can offer to them.

If you feel you are a victim of workplace disability discrimination, contact our expert California disability discrimination attorneys for a free consultation today.