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Minnesota woman sues state agency for disability discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in many aspects of life, but some of the most important provisions of the ADA deal with employment. Under the ADA, employers generally cannot legally discriminate against disabled people while hiring, firing, training, promoting or paying employees.

Recently, a woman filed a disability discrimination claim against the Minnesota Department of Human Services, claiming that the state agency fired her because of her traumatic brain injury. The woman, a psychiatrist, stated that she was injured in a domestic assault incident in 2011 and that this injury interfered with her ability to perform her work duties. The brain injury, she said, left her with vertigo, headaches and difficulty in concentrating.

As a result, she said, she had to take time off from work and fell behind on her assignments. According to her complaint, her employers were initially supportive of her taking time off. She said she was almost caught up with her assignments by the end of the year, but beginning in January of 2012 she said her employers began pressuring her to return to work. After doctors told her she could return to work part-time, the woman said she did indeed return to work in October of 2012. Two weeks later, she said she was fired. Her complaint stated that her supervisor told her that she was to be "made an example of" and that she would never find work for the state again.

Some of the key provisions of the ADA state that employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. This may include making physical changes to the work site, such as installing a ramp for use by an employee who needs a wheelchair. It could also mean changing the employee's work duties or accommodating the employee's request for a schedule change. It can also mean allowing the employee to take unpaid medical leave or to use vacation time for medical leave.

In disability discrimination cases under the ADA, questions often arise as to what conditions render an employee "disabled" according to the law, as well as what accommodations are "reasonable." There are cases in which an employer discriminates against an employee, but did not do so illegally. However, when an employer illegally discriminates against a disabled employee, the employee is entitled to damages.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "No More Mr. Nice Guy," March 8, 2013

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