To bring a disability discrimination lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employee must be able to make a "prima facie" case. Prima facie means "on its face" or "at first glance" in Latin, and it refers to the evidence the employee or applicant must present on order to move the case forward. In employment discrimination cases, the employee or applicant must present enough evidence to allow the judge or jury to infer that discrimination occurred. If the employee does so, the employer must then present some evidence that it took the challenged job action for other reasons. Ultimately, however, the burden of proof in discrimination cases lies with the employee, who ultimately must prove that discrimination took place.
Different courts use different standards to determine whether an employee has made a prima facie case of disability discrimination; an experienced employment lawyer will know the standard local courts use. Generally speaking, an employee must present evidence of three facts to bring a prima facie case:
This final part of the prima facie case can be demonstrated in different ways. If a manager said the employee was being fired because of his or her disability, that would certainly suffice. Often, however, this type of direct evidence isn't available. In this more common situation, an employee might show that he was fired, despite doing a good job, and an employee without a disability was promoted to his position. Or, an employee might show that a disproportionate number of employees with disabilities were selected for layoffs, and that the company posted their jobs shortly afterward.
The ADA doesn't just prohibit employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities; it also requires them to make reasonable accommodations to allow employees with disabilities to do their job. (To learn more about reasonable accommodation, see Reasonable Accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act.) An employer who fails to provide a reasonable accommodation has violated the law, and can be sued. Again, courts use somewhat different standards, but the basics of a prima facie case of failure to accommodate are:
Employers aren't required to provide the precise accommodation an employee requests, but they must engage in an interactive process with the employee to come up with an accommodation that will work. Also, an employer isn't required to accommodate an employee by lowering performance or productivity standards, changing or eliminating essential job functions, or providing personal use items (such as a wheelchair or hearing aid).
If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your disability, or you have been denied a reasonable accommodation, you should speak to an employment lawyer right away. A lawyer can evaluate the facts of your case and explain how strong your claims are. A lawyer can also help you negotiate with your employer and, if necessary, file a charge of discrimination and a lawsuit to protect your rights.