Disability discrimination is an unlawful employment practice under federal and Colorado employment law. Discriminating against employees and applicants can occur in several ways in the workplace. One of those is creating a hostile work environment or harassment of an employee on the basis of the individual’s real or perceived disability. If you believe your employer created a hostile work environment on the basis of your disability then you should contact a Denver employment lawyer to discuss your situation.
Disability discrimination under federal and Colorado employment law
To prove a claim for disability discrimination in the workplace an employee or applicant must prove three elements:
- The employee or applicant has a disability qualified for protection under anti-discrimination law;
- The employer is a covered employer under the applicable laws;
- The employee or applicant is the victim of the unlawful disability discrimination.
Many people think of employment discrimination only as disparate treatment. Disparate treatment occurs when a worker is treated less favorably than another, such as being fired for having a disability or not receiving a promotion due to a disability. Employees can also suffer disability discrimination under federal and Colorado employment law due to a hostile work environment.
Qualified disabilities under employment discrimination law
Workers in Colorado enjoy protection from disability discrimination primarily through the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.) and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (Colorado Revised Statutes § 24-34-401 et seq.). Under these laws a qualified disability is a physical or mental impairment that meets a specific meaning. Although the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 expanded the federal definition of a qualified disability, not all physiological conditions meet the legal definition for protection. Under the current law a qualified disability includes a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Individuals are protected under the ADA and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act if:
- The worker has a qualified disability as defined by the federal and Colorado employment laws; or
- Has a history or record of a qualified disability; or
- Is perceived by others as having an impairment that would be a qualified disability.
Covered employers under Colorado and federal law
Although federal and Colorado law share many protections against disability discrimination at work, they do not always cover the same employers. The ADA applies to all public employers and private employers with fifteen or more employees. It does not apply to private clubs, religious organizations or any private employer with less than fifteen employees. On the other hand, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act extends protection to private employers with less than fifteen employees.
When dealing with disability discrimination claims, employment law attorneys in Colorado must consider the employer’s liability under federal and state employment law to ensure the right administrative and judicial procedures are followed to pursue a worker’s claims.
Disability discrimination–hostile work environment
A hostile work environment claim or harassment claim is a type of employment discrimination claim. Workers may pursue hostile work environment claims similar to other discrimination claims. Unlike a wrongful termination or denial of promotion, a hostile work environment claim may not involve an adverse employment action. It does, however, require that the harassing conduct rise to the level of severe or pervasive within the workplace. Examples of harassment due to a disability include:
- Jokes about the disability;
- Emailing or posting derogatory statements or images related to a disability;
- Slurs, derogatory slang and stereotypes referring to a disabled person;
- Assigning less favorable job assignments or isolating a disabled person to a less favorable or remote work station; and
- Harassing a worker because they married or have a family relationship with a person with a disability.
When a Denver employment lawyer considers an employee’s potential hostile work environment claim, he or she will consider the acts involved as well as how they may satisfy the legal standard for severe or pervasive offensive conduct. A single or infrequent offensive act may be rude and inappropriate but may not create a hostile work environment claim. Repeated acts or a severe incident can create a harassment claim. There is no clear test for what meets the legal test for severe or pervasive unwelcome behavior. Your employment law attorney will assess the situation to determine whether a meritorious claim exists.
Contact a hostile work environment attorney in Colorado
A hostile work environment at work can have a significant effect on your career, your health and well-being. If your employer created a hostile work environment on the basis of a disability then you may have remedies under federal and Colorado law. An employment law attorney may be able to help you end the workplace harassment as well as potentially helping to recover other relief such as emotional damages and lost wages. You should contact a hostile work environment attorney right away to discuss the situation. Even if the offensive behavior has not created a hostile work environment claim ready for a lawsuit there may be opportunities to put an end to the harmful behavior.