Employment Law - Disability Discrimination

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Professor: David Armstrong
Course: Employment Law

"I’m Sorry You’re Disabled, But There’s Nothing I Can Do"

University of Memphis 2013

Abstract
More than 40 million people in America are physically or mentally disabled. Similar to other groups who have historically faced discrimination in the forms of exclusion from the mainstream populous because of races, religions, genders, and national origins, individuals with physical or mental limitations have been unfairly label by numerous employers before their actual abilities could be determined fairly. However, just because a disabled individual is treated differently does not automatically mean they were illegally discriminated against (Jones, 2003).

An individual’s attitude behind the discrimination is the difference between discrimination based on disability and discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, and national origin. The individual displaying acts of discrimination is often uncomfortable or feel sorry for the individual who is disable. Other times, discrimination against disabled persons is the result of "benign neglect" and is "primarily the result of apathetic attitudes rather than affirmative animus" (Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287, 105 S. Ct. 712, 83 L. Ed. 2d 661 [1985]).

A Lack of Consideration may not equate to Discrimination

For example, a restaurant owner who fails to provide a handicapped accessible restroom stall in their eatery is probably most guilty of failing to consider the needs of their patrons rather than of expressing a specific dislike for handicapped individuals.

There is not much leeway provided by the U.S. Constitution regarding mentally and physically disabled persons as they do not fall within a suspect or quasi-suspect class (i.e., those classes subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment or political powerlessness) in the eyes of the court. Classes of individuals formed by race or religion receive greater scrutiny regarding governmental action affecting them as opposed to those actions affecting disabled persons under the Constitution's equal protection clause. (Jones, 2003)

To better define what disability discrimination is and who is considered to be disable legislative action was taken after much debate in the halls of Congress during the late 1960s and early 1970s to pass the first federal laws designed to protect disabled persons, due primarily in part to the lack of distinct constitutional protection. Due to the laws limited coverage in protecting the rights of the disabled Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101–12213).

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued detailed guidance defining “disability” on March 15, 1995. EEOC’s guidance states the following conditions would not constitute impairments: environmental, cultural, and economic disadvantages; age; pregnancy; common personality traits; and normal deviations in height, weight and strength. However, certain aspects of these conditions could give rise to an impairment. For example, complications arising from pregnancy or conditions associated with age, such as hearing loss, could be considered to be disabilities. (EEOC, 1995)

Is Your Home Town Playing Ball

My home town of Memphis, Tenn was found to have violated the ADA by the Department of Justice for failing to provide proper ADA accommodations at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Memphis did however reach an agreement with the Justice Department, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to improve physical accessibility for people with disabilities. Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, in Memphis serves as the home of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis Tigers and Southern Heritage Classic football games.

This agreement will afford all fans and spectators, with and without disabilities, the ability...
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