How Do I Know If I Have a Disability Discrimination Claim Against My New York Employer?

Liane Fisher

Answered by:
Liane Fisher

Located in New York, NY
Fisher Taubenfeld LLP

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Three things have to happen to prove disability discrimination:

  1. You have to prove you have a disability.
  2. Your employer has to have acted illegally due to your disability.
  3. You have to show that action harmed you in some way.

Employment discrimination law is very complex. There is a lot of nuance to it, and it’s really not something law firms can just dabble in successfully. Consider that in New York, there are completely separate city, state and federal laws covering discrimination.

The answer to the question really is, then, if you feel like you are being discriminated against because of a disability, you should talk with a lawyer who focuses on that area of law and is deeply knowledgeable about city, state and federal guidelines. That lawyer can clarify your experience against the laws and help you pursue your legal options, if appropriate.

Question:  What does disability discrimination look like?

Answer: The most important thing to understand is that discrimination is rarely obvious. Very few employers will come right out with actions that are obviously discriminatory; they tend to do it more carefully and over time. It’s not like a movie villain. It can be little things: a comment here, a shift change there, a small unwillingness to accommodate your need that all build and build into something bigger.

Some of the things you might see that could be disability discrimination include:

  • Being denied a reasonable accommodation
  • Intimidating or hostile behavior
  • Demotion or moving to a less desirable shift
  • Unwillingness to provide time off
  • A change in how you were treated before your disability

There are different legal options depending on what you’ve experienced. And, again, you really need to work with someone who understands the nuances between the city, state and federal laws to succeed.

Question: How do I actually prove my case?

Answer: No employer just says something like, “We don’t help people with cancer.” It’s about motivation. It’s about showing patterns of behavior, comparing how you were treated before and after, and comparing your treatment to others who report to the same supervisor. Just hostility alone isn’t enough – there are no state, federal or local bullying laws.

Employers are required to accommodate disabled employees, and the laws are intentionally flexible around what is appropriate accommodation to support the needs of workers. For example, there’s no clear legal limit to what is or is not too much time off for convalescence or medical treatment, so it really falls on the employer to be reasonable. Unless your accommodation potentially puts others at harm or would damage a needed public service, your employer should be doing whatever they can to accommodate your disability.

At its core, proving you were mistreated is about proving that your employer wasn’t willing to work with you, wasn’t willing to accommodate reasonably and acted in a way that harmed you. That’s what an employment law attorney knows how to do.

Question: How long do these kinds of cases take?

Answer: It really depends on a number of factors. First you have to submit the complaint within the statute of limitations, which is generally one year for federal cases and three years for state and local. If your employer is willing to negotiate and avoid a prolonged legal battle, it could be three or four months until you have a check in your hand.

If they can’t be quickly settled, some cases have to go through mandatory mediation, and these can be very successful processes. That can take a year at a minimum, and if the employer decides to fight all the way through the system, it could be two or three years. However, employers can choose to settle at any time in that process.

Question: When should I talk to an attorney?

Answer: Ideally you want to begin working with a lawyer before you are fired or have to leave your job. This is because your actions and how you try to work with your employer are important. If you are doing what you can to open lines of communication, keep your employer informed and work with them, and they still act in a discriminatory way, your case is only strengthened.

But, sometimes you don’t fully realize the discrimination you suffered until after you’ve been let go, and so the real answer to the question is you should talk with a lawyer as soon as you think you may be or have been discriminated against. 

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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