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Published: 2008-03-26

Summary of Federal & State Discrimination Laws



There are state and federal anti-discrimination laws designed to reasonably accommodate individuals with disabilities in the employment area. The following are some of your rights in both the state and federal systems for disability discrimination cases:

  • State Law/Courts:
    • Administrative Workers' Compensation Discrimination: Under the Labor Code § 132a, if your disability occured at work, you have the right to seek an administrative discrimination claim with the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board if your employer discharges, threatens or discriminates against you because you: (1) filed or intend to file a worker's compensation claim; or (2) received a workers' compensation award. If the violation is proven, you may be entitled to financial penalties up to $10,000. Further, the employer may be required to reinstate the employee and reimburse him/her for lost wages and benefits.
    • In 1997, the California Supreme Court held in City of Moorpark vs. Superior Court (Dillon) 18 Cal. 4th 1143 (1998) that a worker whose disability arose from employment and who refused to return to work and/or is terminated because of that disability, has a right to seek a civil rights action under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) of California and under common law. Thus, a workers' compensation "132a claim" is no longer your exclusive remedy.

    • Civil FEHA Discrimination Claim: Under Goverment Code §§12900 - 12906, The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), you may have the right to sue for civil damages resulting from employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, marital status, physical and mental disability, medical condition, age (40 and above) and religious creed. An employer is subject to the FEHA if it employees in California 5 or more employees during the 20 or more calendar weeks within the calendar year preceding the alleged violation, or be a public entity employer. For harassment cases, the employer must have employed one or more persons. An administrative discrimination charge (claim) must be filed within a certain period of time with the California Department of Fair and Housing and a "right-to-sue" letter obtained before a civil suit may be filed in state court. If a violation is proven, emotional damages and other administrative fines up to $50,000 may be awarded. For victims of hate crimes, up to $150,000 in actual damages may be awarded and fines up to $25,000 may be assessed against perpetrators of hate crime violence. If you can prove by clear and convincing evidence the discriminator engaged in "oppression, fraud, malice" or "despicable conduct", under BAJI 14.71 et. seq., you may be also awarded reasonable punitive damages.

  • Federal Law/Courts:

    • Federal ADA Case: Under the Americans With Disability Act (ADA), you may have the right to sue in federal court for damages resulting from an employer's discrimination against a qualified individual with a physical or mental disability. The ADA applies to employers of 15 or more employees. The ADA covers hiring procedures, job training, promotions, terminations, employee wages, and all terms and conditions of employment. Under the ADA, a disabled candidate is considered qualified to be hired or promoted if he/she can perform the "essential job functions" of the job, with or without "reasonable accommodation." A covered employer may have to offer training, or training aids if these steps would enhance employment opportunities and do not cause an undue hardship to the company. A covered employer may not refuse to allow an individual with a disability to return to work even if he/she is not fully recovered from the work-related injury, unless the employer can prove either that you cannot perform the essential job function with or without reasonable accommodation, or that you would pose a direct threat to yourself or others that could not be reasonably accommodated. An EEOC administrative discrimination claim must be filed within a certain period of time, and a "right-to-sue" letter obtained before an ADA civil suit may be filed in federal court.

    • Federal Compensatory and Punitive Damages: Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, an employee's right to sue for damages for discrimination in federal courts was expanded. Employees now have the right to jury trial awards of compensatory and punitive damages for successfully suing employers under the ADA, Title VII, or the Rehabilitation Act. of 1973. Depending on the size of the employer, and if intentional discrimination or harassment is proven based on sex, race, religion, national origin under Title VII, or disability discrimination under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act, damages up to $300,000 may be obtained. Compensatory or punitive damages do not include back pay or front pay, or fringe benefits and interest on back pay or front, which may also be awarded.