New York City’s citizens typically have an extremely liberal and tolerant attitude toward people of various backgrounds, religions, and sexual orientations, however, as surprising as it may seem, there exists an enormous amount of bias toward people with disabilities in the workplace.  This bias can manifest in several different ways: 1) harassment because of a known or perceived disability; 2) failure of an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for a disability; 3) retaliation against an employee for requesting an accommodation for a disability; and finally 4) termination because of a disability.  We will explore what constitutes a disability under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) and provide some examples of disabilities covered under the law to give you a better understanding of your protected rights as as an employee.

The definition of disability under the NYCHRL is less restrictive than under the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).   New York State Courts look only to the NYCHRL for purposes of defining a disability.  Reeves v. Johnson Controls World Services Inc. (2d Cir. 1998).  Under the NYCHRL, the term disability means any “physical, medical, mental or psychological impairment or record of such impairment.” Gibbon v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y November 25, 2008).

The NYCHRL has no requirement that an impairment “substantially limit” a person in some major life activity, and thus the requirement is much broader than the ADA.  Weissman v. Dawn Joy Fashions (2d Cir. 2000).   The NYCHRL lenient standard for disability empowers employees to take action based on discrimination of an impairment rather than requiring them to demonstrate a substantial limitation of a major life activity.   Let’s look at some examples.

In Shannon v. Verizon New York, Inc (N.D.N.Y. 2007), the Court found that incontinence (overactive bladder), while not considered a disability under the ADA, is considered a disability under the NYCHRL.

In Smith v. Pilgrim Power Electrical Contracting LLC (S.D.N.Y. September 6, 2011), the Court found that “prostatitis – which is inflammation of the prostate gland,”  constitutes a disability under the NYCHRL.

Additionally, the definition of disability under the NYCHRL is broad enough to embrace persons who, contend that they are not disabled but whom the potential employer perceives wrongfully to be disabled (employer believed that employee was using opiates as a result of urine test, while employee states that finding was a result of his ingestion of health bread containing poppy seeds).  John Doe v. Roe Inc. (1st Dept. 1990).

In the case of Grullon v. South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (Court of Appeals, 2000), the Court found that the plaintiff was disabled or perceived disabled as a result of suffering from alcoholism, and the evidence in that case was sufficient to satisfy the disability element of the plaintiff’s claim.

As demonstrated above, many different types of impairments satisfy the disability element of the NYCHRL.  Unfortunately, despite a disabled employee’s ability to perform their essential job functions with reasonable accommodations, employers still continue to violate the NYCHRL and unfairly discriminate based on disability.

If you believe you are a victim of employment discrimination, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Risman & Risman, P.C. at (212) 233-6400 or contact us online.  Don’t let injustice go unchecked.


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