Boston Disability Discrimination Revealed in Many Forms

One woman sued after her bosses at the small hotel where she worked allegedly fired her for needing a small oxygen tank.
Another case involves power company workers who were barred from returning to the job after receiving medical treatment for certain conditions.

And yet another involved a man who was denied a job at a fast food chain because he is HIV-positive.

These are all examples of disability discrimination lawsuits that have been recently filed in various across the country.

While the Americans with Disability Act is broad in scope, Massachusetts state law allows for additional worker protections.

A key point in both laws pertains to a clause mandating “reasonable accommodation” with regard to an employee’s disability. This would be any adjustment or modification to a job, employment practice or work environment that makes it possible for a person who is disabled to perform essential work functions. Of course, as the term implies, these accommodations must be “within reason,” and not significantly alter the productive capability of the firm or otherwise cause undue hardship.

The issue of reasonable accommodation was front and center in the recent Chicago-area case involving the hotel night clerk, who worked for years tidying the lobby and preparing the continental breakfast during the overnight shift.

Then two years ago, the woman suffered a bout of respiratory illness. These conditions led her doctor to put her permanently on oxygen. However, when she informed her bosses that she would need to bring the small tank with her to work, she was promptly handed a letter informing her that she had been terminated, citing an allegation that she had failed to have her shifts covered while she was hospitalized.

She has since filed a federal lawsuit alleging violation of ADA. The worker expressed surprise that her bosses reacted the way they did. She said it was a knee-jerk reaction, and she was never even given a chance to prove that she could still perform her duties while being fed oxygen through the portable device.

However, hotel management reportedly told her there was “no way” she could run the front desk while on oxygen.

Not being given a chance to prove fitness of duty is also of issue in a Georgia case involving a utility firm, which is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In this case, the company had a policy of refusing work to applicants and workers who had recently received certain kinds of medical treatment. These decisions were made universally, without special consideration as to the recommendations offered up by physicians regarding an individual’s ability to work. Those who couldn’t return to work were in turn fired.

Also, new applicants who were perceived as disabled by interviewers were automatically rejected. Such assumptions, the EEOC asserts, are unquestionably illegal under federal law.

Also illegal per federal law – and state law – is discrimination based on whether someone tests positive for HIV or AIDS.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151B prohibits the discrimination of employment (at workplaces of six or more employees) on the basis of a person’s disability – and this includes one’s HIV/AIDS status. (The ADA also provides this protection, but only at workplaces with 15 or more employees.) Under the law, HIV/AIDS is considered a disability.

In spite of many public awareness campaigns, there is still a great deal of prejudice and misunderstanding surrounding this condition. That’s likely why a fast food chain applicant in Texas received the reaction he did from a general manager with whom he interviewed. Despite extensive experience in the field, he was turned down for a position after he revealed his medical condition upon request of the employer – which is prohibited.

It’s unfortunate in this day and age that stereotyping of this nature is still acceptable in workplaces. We stand ready to help you fight back.

The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call 617-489-0817 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:
Lawsuit: Hotel desk clerk fired for needing oxygen tank, Oct. 4, 2013, By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune
More Blog Entries:
Massachusetts Discrimination Lawsuit Results in $7M Victory, Aug. 6, 2013, Boston Disability Discrimination Lawyer Blog

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