NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Disabled Workers File Suits Alleging Harassment

November 20, 2001

Federal courts and juries are starting to treat the harassment of disabled employees at work just as seriously as traditional cases of sexual or racial harassment. However, lawsuits under the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act have proved extremely difficult to win, according to legal experts.

But recently, for the first time since the disabilities law formally went into effect in 1992, appellate courts have explicitly recognized disability-based harassment as a form of discrimination, just as other harassment is viewed under the 1964 civil rights act.

  • According to the complaints -- some 2,400 are now filed annually with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- many disabled employees say they are constantly berated by co- workers and managers who accuse them of faking their injuries and who try to force them to quit.
  • Disability-based harassment is now the fourth most frequent claim behind racial harassment, sexual harassment and claims for harassment based on national origin, according to preliminary figures from the E.E.O.C. for the year ended Sept. 30.
  • About 40 percent of the complaints involve mental disabilities or back injuries, according to federal statistics.
  • Employers prevailed in more than 93 percent of cases reaching the trial court level from 1992 through mid-1998 and 84 percent of the time on appeal, according to her research.

Despite recent progress, only 29 percent of people who are disabled and are of working age are employed, compared with 79 percent of those who are not disabled, according to a recent survey.

Source: Reed Abelson, "Employers Increasingly Face Disability-Based Bias Cases," New York Times, November 20, 2001.


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