Proof of Bias – Perceived As – Lawsuits and the ADA
Searching for employment can be a difficult task for a number of reasons. In the cases of the disabled, that search is much more difficult. Discrimination toward disabled job applicants and employees was so rampant that the government stepped in and the Americans with Disabilities Act was drawn up. The intention was to give the disabled the same rights as any other job-seeking citizen.
Following the enactment of the ADA, jobs for the disabled didn’t increase. Employers, however, were now more aware that turning down an applicant due to their disability was illegal. With these rules firmly established, the disabled were free to apply for and work at any job they chose. This was the goal at least, but the reality was a more complex.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act was created with the vision to defend the disabled in the workforce. The act opened a pathway for people with disabilities to have some recourse in discriminatory situations. The law expressly states that no employee or prospective job applicant can be rejected due to his or her disability.
Recently, the ADA has been tested with what has become known as “perceived as” lawsuits. These suits are filed on the behalf of people who feel that they have had their rights violated due to a job related incident. The term “perceived as” has raised questions regarding the validity of the claims and the ADA itself.
“Perceived As” Lawsuits
Bias is a serious subject, especially when it presents itself in a job setting. Every person has the right to earn money, but the environment in which this is done can sometimes be unfavorable. The ADA was meant to even the playing field, and protect people suffering due to discrimination.
Obvious discrimination and prejudice based on another’s race or religion can be cut and dried. Cases have emerged where the discrimination is more subtle, obscured, or based solely on perception. The cases based on perception are known as “perceived as” cases. These cases are difficult to prove and there is debate on whether or not they should be placed under the ADA umbrella.
Racial bias is perhaps the most common reason for a discrimination lawsuit. This can be complicated when the bias is wholly, or in part, perceived. A recent case involving an Iranian engineer charged that the engineer’s supervisor acted in a discriminatory manner toward her. She claimed this discrimination was based on the supervisor’s erroneous assumption that she was of Indian descent.
A judge on the case came to the decision that the engineer was within her right to sue and that there was no need to prove that the supervisor knew of her nationality. This decision allows for lawsuits of similar treks to continue based on only the claimant’s perceptions of the discrimination. In a nutshell, the suit is based on the perception of a misinterpretation.
Kallabat v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co. was a “perceived as” lawsuit brought on by employee Basil Kallabat. Kallabat claimed to have experienced negative treatment due to the perception that he was a Muslim. The claim that Kallabat was discriminated against due to his appearance and manner of dress is difficult to prove. This burden of proof comes down to a war of words rather than deeds.
Federal judges in more than one case similar to Kallabat’s have determined that the “perceived as” bias is valid. This validity has paved the way for legitimate lawsuits based on religious bias. Other cases involving Catholic and Jewish workers have also made their way to the courts.
An increasing category of discriminatory lawsuits pertains to sexuality. Harassment and sexual misconduct are commonplace complaints, but a different form of the old harassment has risen. Same-sex sexual harassment has entered into the fray. Barrett v. Pennsylvania Steel Co. was filed in answer to such a case.
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The case featured a male office worker accusing a male co-worker of harassment. The harassment consisted of the defendant engaging in sexual conversations and verbally harassing the claimant when he did not participate in the sexually charged verbal exchanges. These actions are clear violations of the law covering sexual harassment in the workplace laws.
The above cases are all examples of cases that have been ruled by judges as valid and worthy of trial. These rulings are not the standard, and many other similar cases have been summarily dismissed. “Perceived as” lawsuits are often rejected on a simple premise. Perception and reality may not be one and the same to all parties involved.
The ADA covers the discrimination and harassment of the disabled, and cases of bias based on race, religion, sexuality, and gender. The perception of any of these types of discrimination taking place is up for debate and interpretation.
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