Nov. 20, 2001 --
Federal courts and juries are starting to treat harassment of disabled employees just as seriously as traditional cases of sexual or racial harassment, says a major article in today's New York Times. New York Times reporter Reed Abelson reports that "disability-based harassment is now the fourth most frequent claim behind racial harassment, sexual harassment, and claims for harassment based on national origin, according to preliminary figures from the E.E.O.C. for the year ended Sept. 30."
Abelson interviewed Americans with Disabilities Act legal expert Ruth Colker of Ohio State University, who told him that although harassment suits are increasing, ADA lawsuits are still extremely difficult to win. Colker's data has shown that employers prevailed in more than 93 percent of cases reaching the trial court level from 1992 through mid-1998 -- and 84 percent of the time on appeal.
Still, the issue is beginning to get more attention, particularly from media.
"Harassment of people with disabilities takes different forms, but it can sometimes be a matter of sheer cruelty," reported Abelson. "The equal employment commission recently brought a lawsuit against the Olive Garden, a chain of Italian restaurants owned by Darden Restaurants on behalf of a former employee, Jody Terrio, who is mentally retarded.
"Terrio had endured a daily barrage of physical and verbal abuse while he worked there," wrote Inclusion Daily Express's Dave Reynolds who reported the case last February. "Coworkers called him offensive names, put him in head-locks and other painful wrestling moves -- even pulled his sweatpants down in front of a crowd." (Story online at http://www.geocities.com/sandygo4it/issues_restaurantsued.html)
Read the New York Times story (free registration required) at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/20/business/20BIAS.html
Read about Philip Lanni's successful disability harassment case against General Motors as reported in the Public Employment Law Report (online at http://www.wongfleming.com/article11.html
Visit Ruth Colker's website at http://www.law.ohio-state.edu/colker.htm. To view a video of her Oct. 17 lecture on ADA enforcement, go to http://www.osu.edu/lecture/abstract.html