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45 Years of Impact Spotlight

Fighting Against Discriminatory Employment Policies

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits disability-based discrimination and guarantees individuals with disabilities the right to equal opportunities and access in employment. Similarly, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”) prohibits federal agencies and recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in employment settings.

Throughout its history, DRP has worked to enforce the ADA’s and RA’s protections by challenging discriminatory employment policies.

For example, in 1998, DRP’s predecessor, Disabilities Law Project (“DLP”), filed Rowles v. Automated Production Systems, on behalf of a man with epilepsy who takes anti-seizure medications. The employer had a policy prohibiting the use of legally prescribed medications, and the employee was fired after refusing to take a drug test. DLP won partial summary judgment against the employer, on the basis that the drug testing policy prohibiting use of legally prescribed controlled substances violated the ADA. Following a subsequent trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the employer. After DLP appealed, the parties resolved the case through mediation.

In Miller v. U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, DRP filed an administrative complaint under Section 504 of the RA on behalf of a man with Crohn’s disease who was denied a position as a security guard at the U.S. Mint. Although the client’s disability was controlled by medication, the Department of the Treasury applied a blanket exclusion to bar anyone with gastrointestinal disorders from employment in security positions. After DRP filed the complaint, the Department agreed to rescind this policy and to conduct individualized assessments of applicants to determine if they can perform the essential job functions. The Department further agreed to hire our client if he passed the physical examination and not to bar him based solely on his diagnosis.

In Kochis v. West Mifflin Area School Dist., DRP filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man with intellectual disability who had been employed as a substitute custodian with a school district for 10 years. He repeatedly sought a permanent custodian position, but the school district refused to hire him because he failed a verbal reasoning test. DRP alleged that the school district’s use of the verbal reasoning test violated Title I of the ADA because it was not job-related. After DRP filed the lawsuit, the school district agreed to hire our client for a permanent position.

In Doe v. Lebarnold, DRP represented a husband, wife, and their four-year-old child, all of whom were HIV-positive, in an EEOC complaint alleging that the husband’s employer-sponsored health insurance violated the ADA by instituting a $10,000 lifetime cap for AIDS and HIV treatment when there were no caps for other types of physical illnesses. The EEOC determined the cap violated the ADA, and the parties subsequently negotiated a settlement agreement. The defendant also settled with the EEOC and agreed to eliminate the benefits cap.