Tom is seeking a job at the local factory loading heavy packages onto trucks. Although Tom has a stack of glowing recommendations from previous loading docks where he worked, the owner of the factory informs Tom that he is being rejected because the employer feels that Tom is too obese for the job.
Prior to July 26, 1990 Tom would have had trouble overcoming this situation. However, on that date the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, becoming effective on July 26, 1992. By enacting the ADA, Congress sought to extend to persons with disabilities the same rights and protections provided to women and minorities by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The ADA is of great help to people like Tom. In the workplace setting, the ADA currently applies to employers with 25 or more employees. In July, 1994, the ADA applied to employers with 15 or more employees.
An individual is considered a “person with a disability” if they have a physical or mental impairment which limits their ability to work, and have a record of such an impairment. Thus, an obese employee is protected by the ADA if their employer discriminates against the employee based upon the employer’s belief that obesity impairs the employee.
An employer may not discriminate against an employee with a disability if the employee is able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a “reasonable accommodation.” An accommodation is reasonable as long as it does not impose an undue burden on the employer. Reasonable accommodations may include job-restructuring, reassigning of positions, or the providing of interpreters for employees.
In order to succeed on an action brought under the employment provisions of the ADA, the employee must prove:
- he or she is an individual with a disability;
- he or she applied for a job which was available or was currently performing the job;
- he or she was otherwise qualified for the job, despite the disability;
- he or she was rejected or fired because of the disability;
- the position remained open; and
- the employer either continued to seek applicants or hired someone without a disability who was equally or less qualified than the person with the disability.
If you feel that you, like Tom, have been discriminated against in the workplace because of a disability, do not be afraid to take action. You may either bring a lawsuit, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or contact the office of the Attorney General of the United States.
The ADA also removes a substantial number of transportation and public accommodation barriers which previously confronted person with disabilities. Specifically, the ADA provides that:
- all new buses, trains and other rail vehicles ordered on or after August 26, 1990 must be accessible to persons with disabilities;
- all new bus stations and train stations must be accessible, as well as any new alterations to existing stations;
- all major train and subway stations, currently existing, must be made accessible to person with disabilities;
- all existing trains must have at least one car which is accessible to persons with disabilities, and
- all existing Amtrak stations must be made accessible to persons with disabilities by July 26, 2000.
Also, the ADA prohibits any discrimination against person with disabilities in public places, such as bowling alleys, restaurants, bars, stores and zoos.
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