Workers With Perceived Disabilities Can Face Discrimination

Los Angeles residents often hear stories about problems faced by people with disabilities. But they probably do not know that people without disabilities can also face problems if their employer thinks they have one or thinks they need accommodation for one. This is called a "perceived disability."

A California resident was recently involved in a complicated lawsuit because of a perceived disability. The employee worked for the United Parcel Service for 10 years. In 2008 the employee injured her knee while working. Using a workers' compensation leave of absence, she had two knee surgeries and took time off to recover from her injuries following each surgery.

The employee was able to perform most of the required duties of her position without any problems after returning to work. However, UPS changed the employee's status and classified the disabled employee as an employee with a "residual disability." This meant the employee was no longer performing her regular duties and needed accommodation. The disabled employee was unaware of the change in status.

Under a Flexible Benefit Plan provided by UPS, employees with residual disabilities were only allowed to be absent from their regular duties for twelve months. Victoria also did not know she was now under this plan. The only thing UPS did was send Victoria a packet about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) both times she had surgery.

Since the employee was unaware of her status as having a residual disability, the employee did not do anything with the ADA packet. As a result, after 12 months, UPS fired the worker. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (FEHC) sued on the employee's behalf.

The FEHC said this was a perceived disability case because UPS changed the employee's status to an employee with a disability without notification. UPS also labeled the employee as unable not perform the regular job functions without her knowledge.

Even though UPS thought the employee had a disability and tried to accommodate the employee, the FEHC had problems with how they tried to do this. The UPS ADA packets contained errors about the employee's situation. They also used forms that did not tell the worker about the next steps because UPS had changed the employee's status. The UPS ADA Compliance manual also did not contain FEHA laws.

The FEHC also thought that the 12-month limit was an excuse to fire the employee because UPS wrongfully believed that the employee was disabled. This was found to be an act of disability discrimination. The court found in favor of the employee in this case.

The takeaway from this California employment law case is that even an employee who is not disabled, but who is perceived to be disabled by an employer may have legal rights. For more information, speak to a skilled California discrimination lawyer.