Complying with the ADA in hiring (and in the workplace) means not only “treating people equally despite whatever physical challenges they may face” (as per the EEOC), but also not making assumptions or buying into biases or stereotypes about an applicant’s abilities based on a disability.
Treating someone adversely or differently based upon a “perception of disability” violates the ADA as much as discriminating based upon the disability itself.
As put by an EEOC trial attorney in another case:
“In this case an employee suffered financially because an employer misjudged her condition and her ability to work. … [E]mployers should not make decisions based on perceptions about someone’s supposed impairment. This case should remind all employers that the ADA requires employers to make an individualized assessment about an applicant or employee’s ability to do the job instead of acting out of speculative fears or biases.”
This point is illustrated in a new case filed by the EEOC under the ADA. A restaurant in North Carolina fired an applicant for a busboy position as soon as he reported for work when the owner saw that his arm was amputated above his elbow. The owner allegedly told him that he “could not bus tables because he had only one arm,” even though the applicant told the owner that he had bussed tables at another restaurant.
An EEOC attorney said that “Employers need to understand the importance of treating people equally despite whatever physical challenges they may face. In this case, we allege that [the applicant] was not hired because of assumptions made about his abilities based on his arm amputation. Employers must be careful not to violate federal law by making assumptions about people with disabilities.”
Takeaway: Don’t forget the “perception of disability” provision of the ADA — it has doomed many an employer!