What to Do if You Have Been Discriminated Against
Several federal laws prohibit employment-related discrimination on the basis of disability. Violations might be related to hiring, reasonable accommodations, training, advancement, benefits, or dismissal, or a range of other employment-related issues. Individuals who believe they may have been discriminated against should assess their situations according to the following guidelines and then take actions deemed appropriate.
Investigate the laws that prohibit employment-related discrimination on the basis of disability. Note which laws cover public sector employers, which cover private sector employers, and the applicable time limits for filing claims. The primary laws include:
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (P.L. 101-336) prohibits private sector employers (including employment agencies and labor unions) and state and local government agencies that employ 15 or more individuals from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment. Title II of the ADA provides the same protection to employees of state and local government agencies regardless of the number of employees such agencies employ. Persons who have been discriminated against on the basis of a perceived disability or record of having a disability also are covered by the ADA.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112), as amended, prohibits discrimination in employment in three areas:
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits federal executive branch agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service and the Postal Rate Commission, from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. It requires executive branch agencies to take affirmative action in the hiring, placing, and advancing of individuals with disabilities.
Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires contractors who have a contract with the federal government for $10,000 or more, and their subcontractors whose contracts reach those levels, to take affirmative action to employ and to advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.
Section 504 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in employment and in their programs and activities.
Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) forbids disability-based discrimination, in employment or in provision of services, by any organization or other entity that receives Federal financial assistance under WIA, and by any program or activity that is provided as part of the nation's One-Stop job training system by a One-Stop partner.
Veterans with disabilities are protected further by Section 4212 of the Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. Section 402 requires that contractors and subcontractors who have a contract with the federal government for $25,000 or more take affirmative action to employ, advance in employment, and otherwise treat covered veterans without discrimination.
Individuals with disabilities also may be protected by their state anti-discrimination laws, some of which are more stringent than the federal laws. To learn more about rights under state laws, contact the State Human Rights Commission or its equivalent. Most states also have a commission, council, or committee that addresses disability issues.
Attempt to resolve the problem at the lowest level possible. Current employees should discuss the situation with their own supervisors and with upper level management, if necessary. Determine whether the employer has a policy for resolving such conflicts internally. Many companies and government agencies have established official Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedures, which means that the parties involved agree to follow specific guidelines in an effort to avoid costly, time-consuming legal action. Section 513 of the ADA encourages the use of ADR, naming settlement negotiations, conciliation, facilitation, mediation, fact-finding, materials, and arbitration as examples. The regulations implementing WIA Section 188 require that covered entities provide ADR as an option for resolving discrimination complaints.
NOTE: Participation in an employer internal ADR or other conflict resolution procedure may or may not suspend the regulatory time limits for initiating administrative or court actions.
If the problem remains unresolved, the individual may consider filing a complaint with the appropriate government agency and/or seeking legal advice.
- Title I of the ADA is enforced primarily by the EEOC. To file a complaint or for more information, call: (800)669-4000 (V) / (800)800-3302 (TTY).
- Title II of the ADA is enforced primarily by the U.S. Department of Justice. Send complaints to: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Coordination and Review Section, P.O. Box 66118, Washington, DC 20035-6118. For more information, call (800)514-0301 (V) / (800)514-0383 (TTY). Title II does not require exhaustion of administrative remedies. Consequently, a complainant may elect to proceed with a private suit at any time.
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, is enforced by the EEOC. In order to file a complaint, individuals covered by Section 501 must first contact an equal employment opportunity counselor at the agency where the alleged discrimination took place. There is also a private right of action under Section 501, which allows the individual to file a private lawsuit in a U.S. district court within specific time periods.
Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Send complaints to OFCCP at the nearest U.S. Department of Labor district or regional office or to OFCCP, U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, is enforced by the federal agency that provided financial assistance to the private sector employer involved. Send complaints to the Office of Civil Rights at that agency or to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Coordination and Review Section, P.O. Box 66118, Washington, DC 20035-6118. Individuals do not have to exhaust administrative procedures under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They may file suit in federal district court against private employers receiving federal financial assistance, without filing complaints with the administrative agency.
WIA Section 188 is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Civil Rights Center (CRC). To file a complaint with CRC, send it to Director, Civil Rights Center, Frances Perkins Building, Room N-4123, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20210. Complaints may also be filed with the recipient of Federal financial assistance; if, after filing with the recipient, an individual is not satisfied with the outcome of the case, he or she may file with CRC within 30 days of receiving a Notice of Final Action from the recipient. For more information, or to obtain a copy of CRC's complaint form on-line, please click here. CRC also enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as it applies to recipients of Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Section 402 of the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended, is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). To file a complaint, contact the Veterans Employment Service of the Department of Labor through the local veteran s employment representative or designee at the local state employment office. Complaints also can be sent to OFCCP at the nearest U.S. Department of Labor district or regional office, or to OFCCP, U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disabilitiy Employment Policy, Updated May 2002
Additional information: What to do When an Employer Discriminates Against You Because of Your Disability, ADA Insights