A jury awarded an award winning columnist $7.1 million after finding that the Los Angeles Times discriminated against him due to his age and disability. In this blog post, we will provide a brief overview of age discrimination and disability discrimination claims. We will also explain how the law protects employees against discrimination by their employers.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects employees with mental and physical disabilities and with qualifying medical conditions against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. FEHA also protects employees over the age of 40 against discrimination. An employer must “regularly” employ five or more employees to be covered by FEHA. This means that if a business has five or more regular employees, then FEHA and its protections apply to those employees.
According to FEHA, an individual is disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that limits one or more major life activity. Examples of recognized disabilities include: high blood pressure, heart conditions, AIDS, epilepsy, diabetes, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple sclerosis. These are just a few physical and mental conditions that the law recognizes as disabilities. Other health conditions may qualify as a disability if it is a physiological, or body disorder. Note that FEHA also protects an employee who is not physically disabled, but who is “regarded as” by the employer to have a physical disability.
Assuming a person has a qualifying disability, an employer cannot refuse to hire the person because of the disability, nor can the employer fire the person because of the disability. Also, the employer must make “reasonable accommodation” for a person with known physical or mental disabilities. Stay tuned for part 2 of our series on disability discrimination where we discuss the “reasonable accommodation” analysis in greater depth.
In the columnist’s case mentioned above, the jury found that the newspaper discriminated against the 63 year old columnist after he suffered a mini stroke. Before the stroke, the columnist’s performance reviews were positive and he was treated well at the newspaper. After he suffered the stroke, his supervisors made complaints about his writing style and threatened to demote him over allegations that he concealed a conflict of interest when interviewing a major sports figure. The jury found that the newspaper editors discriminated against the columnist by issuing a final warning to him and insisting on the demotion without giving him a first warning. The columnist resigned because he felt mistreated. The jury awarded damages for economic damages (loss of earnings) and non-economic damages (emotional distress, for example).
Many of the cases we handle at Stephen Danz & Associates involve employers who deny employees with qualifying disabilities reasonable accommodations or discharge employees with disabilities. We have extensive experience handling discrimination cases and are happy to talk to you if you have a question about your employment situation. Contact us today for a free consultation.