If you are disabled, and if you are terminated from your job in California, under what circumstances is such a termination wrongful? When is terminating someone with a disability an act of illegal discrimination? Can a San Francisco employment rights attorney help?

Keep reading, especially if you are an employer or if you or someone in your family struggles with a disability. This will be a brief discussion of the employment rights of disabled workers in California. You are about to learn:

1. what constitutes a wrongful termination
2. how a disabled person can know if he or she has been wrongfully terminated
3. what your legal recourse is after a wrongful termination

WHAT IS THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“the ADA”) makes disabled persons a legally protected class under federal law. When a private employer has fifteen or more employees, the ADA applies.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act offers comparable legal protections at the state level to disabled employees working at businesses with only five or more employees.

Under both state and federal law, if someone can do the job, an employer may not legally terminate, fail to promote, fail to hire, or discriminate in any way against that person on the basis of his or her physical or mental disability.

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act obliges employers to make “reasonable” accommodations for disabled employees.

WHO IS PROTECTED UNDER THE ADA?

To seek legal protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, someone’s disabling condition must be defined by the ADA itself as a legal disability.

A person is disabled under the ADA’s definition of disability if he or she has a mental or physical condition that substantially restricts basic activities like seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing, walking, and performing basic manual tasks.

To be a victim of employment discrimination, a disabled person must be capable of doing the job either with or without reasonable accommodations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides legal protection from discrimination in hiring, training, promotions, pay, benefits, and termination. Employers may not fire or retaliate in any way if a disabled person asserts his or her ADA rights.

Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that disabled workers have a right to ask for a reasonable accommodation in the hiring process and throughout the course of their employment.

HOW ARE “REASONABLE” ACCOMMODATIONS DEFINED?

Employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. Reasonable accommodations may include:

1. making the existing job site and work area more accessible
2. modifying work schedules
3. acquiring new equipment or modifying the existing equipment
4. revising tests, policies, and/or training materials

A “reasonable accommodation” is one that does not unduly cost the company. Other examples might include installing a ramp, providing printed materials in Braille, or changing company policies to allow a service animal into the work area.

WHAT CONSTITUTES ILLEGAL DISCRIMINATION UNDER THE ADA?

Illegal discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act includes an employer’s:

1. failure or refusal to accommodate special needs
2. failure or refusal to hire a capable employee due to a disability
3. termination of an employee due to a disability

If you are disabled and you are fired from your job, how can you know if you have in fact been wrongfully or illegally terminated?

WHAT IS “AT WILL” EMPLOYMENT?

Most employment in the state of California – unless you work under an employment contract – is “at will” employment, which means that workers are hired and fired entirely at an employer’s discretion – with one key exception.

Although anyone may be terminated by an employer for any legal reason or in fact for no reason at all, you can’t be terminated for an illegal reason – like discrimination – or in violation of an employment contract.

If you believe that you have been wrongfully and illegally terminated because you are disabled, you will need to discuss your circumstances, rights, and options with an employment rights attorney.

HOW CAN AN EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS ATTORNEY HELP YOU?

In California, if you were terminated illegally because of discrimination, in some cases you can be reinstated, and you may also be awarded financial damages.

If you don’t find other employment quickly, you may face genuine financial hardship. Depending on the details of your case, an employment rights lawyer might:

1. help you file a discrimination claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

2. negotiate directly with the employer for an out-of-court settlement

3. file a discrimination lawsuit against the employer as a last resort and take the case to a jury

WHEN CAN YOU FILE AN EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT?

However, in wrongful termination cases involving disability discrimination, filing a lawsuit is the last option – not the first. Neither federal nor state courts will consider employment discrimination cases until and unless all of the possible “administrative” resolutions have failed.

Still, from the very beginning of the process, a disabled person who has been wrongfully terminated will need the insights, guidance, and sound legal advice that an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney will provide.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONTACT AN EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS ATTORNEY?

If you have been wrongfully terminated by your employer because you struggle with a disability, you’ll need that sound legal advice as quickly as possible.

Filing a discrimination claim is a complicated process with plenty of paperwork – that must be comprehensive and accurate – and with filing deadlines that cannot be missed.

California imposes no limit or “cap” on the damages that employers must pay disabled discrimination victims, but damages are limited in federal discrimination cases.

Because California provides extensive legal protections to employees beyond the provisions of federal law, in most cases, a disability discrimination claim should be filed in a state court. Your attorney will scrutinize the particulars of your own case and recommend the best way forward.

WILL YOU BE ABLE TO WIN JUSTICE?

If you have been the target of wrongful termination because of disability discrimination, be assured that the state of California has no tolerance for employment discrimination of any kind.

The law is on your side, but you must be advised and represented by an experienced employment rights lawyer. The right attorney can make all of the difference. The sooner you put an attorney on your case, the more likely it is that you will prevail.

Depending on the details of your case, you may legally be entitled to back wages, additional compensation, and reinstatement. You will absolutely be entitled to justice. That is your right.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.