Perceived Disability

Perceived Disability

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I recently put together a presentation explaining the discrimination and firings of employees diagnosed with Lyme disease and emphasized methods to combat the bias and intolerance of diseases in general. More applicably to this blog however are my inclusions of the rights of both disabled and perceived-to-be disabled employees. Up until recently, people with actual disabilities were the only ones who could claim a discrimination claim in Connecticut. Ensuing a state Supreme Court’s recent ruling though, judges & juries will start hearing plaintiff claims alleging discrimination based on the aforementioned perception of a disability.

Several years ago, an employee claimed discrimination based on, among other issues, the incorrect assumption of a physical disability. After returning from allotted vacation time, she was granted time off to have surgery done on her shoulder beginning the following year. She had recently completed a probationary period- she was placed on it due to communication deficiencies-but she was terminated only days after she was granted time off. An HR representative later cited the plaintiff not successfully completing this period as the reason for her termination. Soon thereafter, she sued her employer.

After appealing twice and having the opportunity for the state’s Supreme Court to hear her case, the plaintiff was able to prove discrimination by her employer. There were of course critics of her lawsuit, including lower courts and private organizations in the state, claiming that since the legal language did not specify whether perceived disabilities were deemed the same as actual disabilities, simple policy considerations were not valid. However, the state’s Supreme Court ultimately sided with the employee and ruled that even an employee with a perceived disability could claim employer bias. As opined by the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities “the intent to discriminate is the same whether the physical disability is real or perceived. An employer who is wrong about whether the employee has a disability should not be able to benefit from its misconceptions.”

Posted February 23, 2015