Is Disability Discrimination Illegal In Texas?
As we stated above the answer is a resounding YES however there are complications involved. For example, how does the state actually define discrimination? Do you qualify? Outside of unlawful termination (being fired for having the impairment), how are employers allowed to treat those with a disability?
While seemingly vague and only invites more questions, the legal definition of disability is someone whose “physical or mental impairment limits one or more daily activities.” Realizing that might be too vague, the ADA instead landed on three elements for determining when one is disabled. The relevant legal code, for those that are interested, is Chapter 126 of the U.S. Code, named Equal Opportunity for Individuals With Disabilities.
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual.
- A documented record of having such an impairment.
- Or, as the law states, “being regarded as having such an impairment.”
The important thing to note here is that you qualify if you match any of those three criteria above. However as existing precedent is the best guide in legal matters, let’s look at some examples where Texas companies were found guilty of discriminating based on an employee’s disability.
Types of Disability Discrimination
Now that we’ve defined what is meant by disability, let’s get into the types of discrimination one may (illegally) face in the workplace for possessing such a disability.
(1) An employer is not allowed to force medical testing on their employees and must abide by other records for keeping up with medical records and requiring medical testing. In other words, outside of the medical information that you are required to supply your employer to show that you are disabled and any medical testing required to fulfill the job, your employer cannot make you submit to additional medical testing.
(2) An employer must reasonably accommodate disabilities.
(3) No employer is allowed to “discriminate against an individual with a disability”, where disability is as defined previously.
(4) An employer may not retaliate against someone who opposes discrimination or participates in protected activity.
Examples of Disability Discrimination
We’ll look at a few examples of times when the federal government has filed suit against Texas companies including discrimination in firing of disabled employees and discrimination in the hiring process.
Unlawful Termination for Disability Discrimination
In 2012, the EEOC filed lawsuits against two Texas-based companies, REDC Default Solutions, and Luminant Mining.
In the case of Luminant Mining, the suit alleged, forced an employee, James Tarver, to work on his feet for several hours on concrete despite having a club foot. In the eyes of the EEOC, the regulating body in charge of disability claims, this violated an employer’s requirement to provide reasonable accommodation for someone with a medical condition covered by the ADA.
In the case of REDC Default Solutions, an employee was out on medical leave after suffering a stroke. After submitting a letter to her employer from her physician stating she needed more time to recover, the company promptly fired her. The ADA allows for complications in the recovery of medical leave if your attending physician promptly alerts your employer in advance of the additional time needed off.
Unlawful Hiring Practices of the Disabled
In 2019, the EEOC filed suit against Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas for unlawful hiring practices. The EEOC discovered the case of Sheryl Meador, a deaf applicant, who applied using Bluecross’s online application process. The application process contained an audio portion where users were required to listen to certain prompts and respond accordingly.
Being deaf, Sheryl Meador was unable to complete this process and therefore unable to complete the application. The EEOC would win, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas was ordered to pay $75,000 to settle the case. This case shows how you can be the victim of disability discrimination by a company without ever officially working for the company.
How Can You Prove Workplace Discrimination?
Whether it be in Texas or any other state, the difficulty with winning a discrimination case against your employer comes down to your ability to prove that your employer fired you because you are disabled. If you look at the above examples, note that they involve cases for which there is ample documentation of the alleged offense.
For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield committed a violation in their online hiring process. A clear violation of the ADA, that was inherited from their hiring practices. In the case of REDC Default Solutions, the employee made it clear that they would need additional time via a note from their physician. The moral of the story is to make sure to keep records of every interaction with your employer as well as making sure to get confirmations when they receive necessary documents of your condition.