Disability Discrimination Lawsuits: A Comprehensive Overview

Disability discrimination lawsuits hold a vital role in ensuring equal rights and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. These lawsuits often arise when an individual with a disability faces unjust treatment, barriers in accessing public services, or unfair labor practices. The foundation of disability rights litigation lies in various federal civil rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which aims to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and guarantee equal access across various aspects of life.

A key part of this legal landscape is the enforcement of these laws, which can impact both large and small entities. Cases may range from nationwide situations affecting hundreds of people to localized issues focusing on a single business or organization. Notable examples of disability discrimination lawsuits include the massive $125 million verdict against Walmart and the recent U.S. lawsuit against Uber for its alleged discrimination against people with disabilities.

As society continues to evolve and include people with disabilities more actively and fairly, disability discrimination lawsuits play a critical role in addressing violations and setting the stage for improved access and inclusivity. By understanding the legal framework regarding disability rights and staying informed on the latest cases, people can better appreciate the significance of these lawsuits in promoting a more equitable society.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that aims to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities. This law encompasses various areas, including employment, public accommodations, transportation, telecommunications, and state and local governments.

Employment Discrimination

Under Title I of the ADA, employment discrimination is prohibited. This means that private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the business.

Public Accommodations and Accessibility

The ADA stipulates that businesses and organizations must provide access and accommodations for people with disabilities to ensure equal opportunity and participation in services, programs, and activities. This includes both physical and digital accessibility, such as ramps for wheelchair users and accessible websites for people with visual impairments.

Some examples of public accommodations covered by the ADA include:

  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Retail stores
  • Theaters
  • Schools
  • Healthcare facilities


The ADA requires that transportation providers, such as buses, subways, and taxis, make their services accessible to people with disabilities. This includes providing functioning lifts, ramps, and priority seating, as well as ensuring that drivers and operators are trained to assist passengers with disabilities.


Title IV of the ADA addresses telecommunications services for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires telephone and internet companies to provide relay services, which enable people with communication disabilities to make and receive phone calls using text or assistive devices.

State and Local Governments

State and local governments are also subject to the ADA, which mandates that they make their programs, services, and activities accessible to people with disabilities. This can involve making reasonable modifications to policies and practices, providing auxiliary aids and services for communication, and ensuring that public facilities are physically accessible.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. It ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to education and reasonable accommodations. Schools are required to provide appropriate educational services to students with disabilities, tailored to their individual needs.

Health Care

In the context of health care, Section 504 plays a crucial role in ensuring equal access to services and facilities for individuals with disabilities. Health care providers receiving federal financial assistance must make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, and procedures to accommodate the needs of patients with disabilities. This may include providing sign language interpreters, accessible medical equipment, or an accessible facility.


Section 504 also extends to voting rights, ensuring that individuals with disabilities have equal access to the electoral process. Under this law, state and local governments are required to provide accessible polling places and voting systems, as well as assistance for voters with disabilities that may need help in casting their ballots. This guarantees that people with disabilities can exercise their right to vote without facing discrimination or obstacles due to their disability.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Employment Discrimination Cases

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their disability, among other protected characteristics. The EEOC oversees cases that involve disability discrimination for private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions.

Disability discrimination cases can cover a range of employment aspects, such as hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. To qualify for protection under these laws, an individual must meet the legal definition of disability.


In addition to addressing disability discrimination, the EEOC also handles cases of retaliation against employees who assert their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act or other anti-discrimination laws. Retaliation can take various forms, from adverse employment actions to harassment of the employee involved.

The EEOC enforces several federal laws that prohibit retaliation, which allows individuals who believe they have been retaliated against for claiming their rights to file a complaint with the agency. The EEOC will investigate these complaints and work to ensure that employees are protected from unlawful retaliation.

Punitive Damages

In some employment discrimination cases, punitive damages may be awarded to the victims if the employer’s discriminatory actions were particularly egregious or malicious. Punitive damages serve as a punishment for the employer and a deterrent to discourage similar behavior in the future.

For instance, the EEOC reported in fiscal year 2020 that it recovered just over $106 million for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals through litigation, marking the largest recovery through the EEOC’s litigation program in the past 16 years. These settlements can include compensatory and punitive damages, as well as reinstatement or other equitable remedies for the affected individuals.

Businesses and Accessibility

The issue of accessibility for people with disabilities is becoming increasingly relevant for businesses due to a rising number of lawsuits. According to a report, the number of U.S. lawsuits alleging that websites, apps, and digital videos were inaccessible to people with disabilities increased by 64% in the first half of 2021 compared to the previous year.

Businesses are required, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.), to ensure both physical and digital accessibility for all. Despite the A.D.A. being in effect for over 31 years, some businesses are still facing legal challenges for not complying with the regulations. As the number of these lawsuits increases, it becomes vital for businesses to take the necessary steps to accommodate people with disabilities.

One factor driving the rise in accessibility lawsuits is the growing importance of digital services, which can present barriers for people with disabilities if not designed with inclusivity in mind. For instance, websites without properly labeled images or video content without subtitles can be challenging for visually impaired or hearing-impaired individuals.

Addressing accessibility concerns is not only a legal obligation for businesses but also an opportunity to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment. By ensuring that their premises and digital services are accessible, businesses can serve a broader customer base and demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility.

To ensure compliance with accessibility laws, businesses need to familiarize themselves with the A.D.A. guidelines and implement necessary changes. Regular assessments, staff training, and consulting with experts in the field are essential in maintaining an accessible environment for everyone. By being proactive in addressing accessibility concerns, businesses can avoid litigation and create a more inclusive environment for both their staff and customers.

Federal and State Laws

Section 503

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment. This law applies to federal contractors and subcontractors, ensuring that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal opportunity in all aspects of employment, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, and compensation. Employers covered by Section 503 are required to take affirmative action to employ and advance individuals with disabilities, setting hiring goals and making reasonable accommodations for employees’ specific needs. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also plays a crucial role in preventing discrimination against individuals with disabilities by prohibiting private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from engaging in discriminatory practices.

Affordable Care Act

Under the Affordable Care Act, individuals with disabilities cannot be denied health insurance or charged higher premiums based on their disability status. Additionally, insurance providers must cover essential health benefits, including mental health services, rehabilitative services, and devices necessary for individuals with disabilities. The ADA, in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act, ensures that state and local governments, as well as healthcare providers, do not discriminate against individuals with disabilities in accessing healthcare services.

In conclusion, both federal and state laws play an essential role in protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. These well-established regulations strive to create a more inclusive and accessible society for all, addressing different sectors such as employment and healthcare.

Legal Processes and Compliance

U.S. Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) plays a significant role in enforcing disability discrimination laws. Through the Civil Rights Division, the department aims to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and ensure compliance with relevant laws and policies. The DoJ works in collaboration with other federal agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to address and resolve issues related to disability discrimination.

U.S. District Courts

When it comes to litigation, private lawsuits can be filed in U.S. District Courts by individuals who believe they have experienced discrimination due to their disability. The courts play a crucial role in upholding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other related laws that protect the rights of disabled individuals. Cases are often heard by these courts, which have the authority to decide on the merits of each case and issue relevant rulings.

Injunctive Relief

In cases of disability discrimination, injunctive relief can be sought by the plaintiff, which typically requires the defendant to take specific actions to remedy the discriminatory practices. These actions may include providing accommodations, improving communication methods, or revising discriminatory policies. Such court-ordered remedies are crucial in ensuring that individuals with disabilities receive equal treatment and protection under the law.

In conclusion, the legal processes related to disability discrimination lawsuits involve critical entities such as the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. District Courts, and the concept of injunctive relief. These elements work together to protect the rights of disabled individuals and ensure compliance with disability discrimination laws.

Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Examples

One notable example of a disability discrimination lawsuit is the case of a man named Albert Dytch, who filed more than 180 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits in California. Dytch, 71 years old and living with muscular dystrophy, has taken it upon himself to ensure that businesses are in compliance with the ADA, emphasising the importance of accessibility for all individuals.

Another example is the massive $125 million verdict against Walmart in a disability discrimination case. A federal jury delivered this eye-popping verdict after a former Walmart employee, who has Down syndrome, was alleged to have faced discrimination in the workplace that eventually led to her termination.

In the realm of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, there have been key cases that shaped the rights of disabled persons and disability discrimination. One such case is Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp (1998), where the Court ruled that HIV infection qualifies as a disability under the ADA. This decision broadened the scope of the ADA, encompassing more individuals and protecting their rights.

A California appellate court upheld a $500,000 jury award in a 2018 disability harassment case, Caldera v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In this case, the employee suffered ridicule from his supervisor and coworkers who mimicked his stutter. The lawsuit highlighted the importance of creating a respectful and inclusive work environment for employees with disabilities.

These examples demonstrate that disability discrimination lawsuits play a crucial role in ensuring fairness and equal treatment for individuals with disabilities. By bringing attention to these cases and promoting awareness of the ADA, we can foster more inclusive and equitable environments for all.

Providing Reasonable Accommodations

The primary goal of disability discrimination laws is to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities in all aspects of life, including employment and access to public facilities. One key aspect of these laws is the requirement for employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job, work environment, or employment-related activities that enables a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment. Examples of reasonable accommodations include making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users, providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired, making a schedule change, granting telework, allowing leave for disability-related treatment or symptoms, or reassignment to a vacant position where reasonable accommodations can be provided.

Employers are required by law to make such accommodations unless they can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of their business. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides guidance on determining undue hardship.

It’s important to note that an employer generally does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless an individual with a disability has asked for one. If an employer believes that a medical condition is causing a performance or conduct problem, it may ask the employee how to solve the problem and if the employee needs a reasonable accommodation.

As part of their obligations under disability discrimination laws, employers are also required to avoid adversely affecting an employee’s rights to participate in major life activities. This means ensuring that employees with disabilities have equal access to participate in activities open to the public, such as work events, training sessions, or workplace functions.

By providing reasonable accommodations and ensuring equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities, employers can minimize the risk of facing disability discrimination lawsuits and simultaneously create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all employees.

Best Practices and Training

Implementing best practices and training is essential in preventing disability discrimination lawsuits. Employers and Human Resources professionals must ensure that their organizations strictly adhere to compliance with the Disability Rights Laws. This includes fostering a work environment that values equal opportunity for all, regardless of disabilities or impairments.

Training programs should focus on educating employees and management about the importance of equal opportunities, relevant laws, and how to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Special attention should be given to acknowledging both mental impairments and physical disabilities, as both can impact a person’s ability to perform major life activities.

Emphasize the importance of having clear communication channels for employees to express their needs. Ensure that managers and supervisors are well-equipped to address and resolve any concerns related to disability accommodations.

In addition to employee training, organizations must establish policies and procedures that promote accessibility for disabled individuals, such as barrier-free workspaces, accessible technology, and reasonable accommodations. Regularly review and update these policies to maintain compliance with evolving laws and regulations.

Implementing these best practices demonstrates a company’s commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment, resulting in a lower risk of disability discrimination lawsuits. By staying proactive in training, compliance, and equal opportunity, organizations can better support employees with disabilities and contribute to a diverse and thriving workforce.

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