A recent decision by the Illinois Court of Appeals has clarified the rights of disabled employees, granting them the ability to pursue lawsuits in cases where they have been harassed and discriminated against because a disability.
The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) prohibits discriminating against an employee on the basis of a disability, but the law does not specifically prohibit harassment because of a disability or command an employer to accommodate a disability.
But in an April 27, 2016 opinion, the Court of Appeals for the Second District held in Rozsavolgyi v. City of Aurora held that those protections can indeed be read into the IHRA.
Rozsavolgyi v. City of Aurora
In Rozsavolgyi, the plaintiff had worked for the city for 20 years. She was known to suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and also had difficulties with her hearing. The plaintiff complained to the both the union and the city she was harassed by coworkers because of these conditions, which also caused her further mental health problems.
In July 2014, the plaintiff was fired for calling some individuals “idiots,” though it’s unclear who those people were exactly. The city had also previously expressed concerns about her mental health problems and that she may become violent.
However, no violent activity on the part of the plaintiff was ever actually documented at work, and she sued the city under the IHRA for creating a hostile work environment, retaliatory discharge and failing to accommodate her disabilities.
From Sexual Harassment, Disability Harassment in Illinois
One of the more unique aspects about the Rozsavolgyi case is that the text of the law in Illinois is quite far from protecting disabled workers from harassment. Section 2-102(D) of the IHRA specifically states that “that an employer shall be held responsible for sexual harassment” if the employer is aware of it and fails to take action to address it. It does not mention anything about harassment of the disabled.
In a divided opinion, the court held that because the IHRA explicitly disallows sexual harassment, it is intended to also bar other types of harassment of protected classes, including the disabled. The court noted that employers have been put on notice for decades now that state law does not allow for any sort of harassment of protected classes. However, the lone dissenting judge pointed out that if the legislature had intended to outlaw harassment of the disabled, then it could have been explicitly included in the law.
Contact an Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today
Federal law has long protected the rights of disabled workers, but this latest case also makes it clear that state law guarantees workers an environment free of harassment. If you’ve been victimized by harassment in your workplace because of a disability, there’s no reason to put up with it for a moment longer. A dedicated Roselle employment discrimination attorney can help you pursue your case. Contact the Law Office of Michael T. Smith today to discuss your case.