The Differences Between Federal and California Disability Discrimination Law and How Those Differences May Help Your Case

People may offer all kinds of unsolicited legal opinions all the time. “Oh, that kind of accident isn’t something you can sue for.” “That kind of medical problem isn’t something you can win a discrimination case on.” And so on, and so on. Most of these opinions will inevitably come from non-lawyers. Don’t listen to them. If you think you’ve been harmed – such as suffering disability discrimination at work – make sure you are armed with reliable knowledge before you make any serious decisions. Reach out to a skilled Oakland employment attorney to get the information and the advice you need.

When it comes to disability discrimination in California, a recent discrimination case from Los Angeles reminds readers of a couple of different – and equally important – truths about disability discrimination law in California.

The first is that, just because you may not have a federal disability discrimination case, that doesn’t mean you have no potential disability discrimination case in California. The federal disability discrimination law (the Americans With Disabilities Act or ADA) establishes what the law calls a “floor” for discrimination prohibition. That means that state law cannot do less to protect people with disabilities, but it can do more.

Second, just because your medical condition is something obscure, that obscurity doesn’t automatically mean that it is not covered by California’s law barring disability discrimination.

The employee in Los Angeles was a teacher who, according to her complaint, had electromagnetic hypersensitivity and began experiencing chronic pain, headaches, and nausea after the school district updated the Wi-Fi system at the school where she taught. The employer allegedly acted on none of the teacher’s requests for accommodation and eventually retaliated against her for making those requests.

The teacher pursued her lawsuit under the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s (FEHA) prohibitions against workplace disability discrimination. The school district, in seeking to get the case dismissed, relied upon federal cases that arose under the ADA.

FEHA Does More to Protect Workers than Federal Law Does

The teacher, however, was not pursuing ADA claims, but rather FEHA claims. The FEHA holds employers to a higher standard than the ADA does. The ADA acts as a “floor of protection” but, as the appeals court pointed out, the FEHA has always erected extra protections for workers. The California Legislature specifically stated that employees should be “protected from discrimination due to actual or perceived physical impairment that is disabling, potentially disabling, or perceived as disabling or potentially disabling.”

Based on this greater level of protection, the teacher’s complaint laid out a viable case of disability discrimination, even if the federal law under the ADA did not “recognize” electromagnetic hypersensitivity as a valid disability.

Certainly, electromagnetic hypersensitivity may not be as prevalent as diabetes, depression, or heart disease, but under the FEHA that doesn’t matter. There is no “list” of disabilities that are “recognized” to the exclusion of all others. The FEHA, instead, casts a wider net than that.

When it comes to employment discrimination law, there is federal law and there is California law. Just because you don’t have a case under one doesn’t automatically mean you don’t have a case under the other. Instead of just giving up on your case, call upon the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch to find out what legal options exist for you. Attorney Fuerch is a knowledgeable Oakland workplace discrimination attorney who has many years of experience helping people in situations just like yours. Contact this office through our website or call (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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