In This Issue
- Source of Income is a Protected Class
- Papa John’s Pizza to Settle Employment Discrimination Case
- What’s Fair?: Q&A’s on Reasonable Accommodations
- We Want Your Pictures
- General Election 2016: Voters with Disabilities Experience Survey
- How to Receive Legislative Updates
Source of Income is a Protected Class
Janice* receives housing assistance. Last fall, she began looking for an apartment in Utah County. At several properties she was turned away on account of her Section 8 voucher. To organize her search she documented who she had contacted and listed their reason for not renting to her. When Janae heard about the Disability Law Center’s (DLC’s) Fair Housing Program she called to report her experience.
The DLC utilized fair housing testers over a three month period to investigate whether or not discrimination was occurring at five rental properties. Fair housing testing is much like “secret shopper,” but tests rental properties for the presence or absence of discrimination rather than businesses for customer service quality. Fair housing testers pose as apartment seekers and inquire about available units while disclosing that they have a housing voucher.
In December of 2016, the Disability Law Center’s Fair Housing Program filed complaints against five Utah County property managers alleging discrimination based on source of income. The DLC filed four of the five complaints after the housing provider stated that they would not accept an applicant receiving housing assistance. At the fifth property, the housing provider made several statements discouraging the tester from renting there.
Source of income is a protected class under the Utah Fair Housing Act. This means that landlords cannot treat people differently on the basis of their receipt of government benefits, including housing or rental assistance. Landlords cannot deny housing to an individual receiving assistance, refuse to accept Section 8 vouchers, or charge a tenant more money based on the fact that they have housing assistance.
“Unfortunately, our investigation reveals that this type of discrimination is all too common,” said Nick Jackson, a fair housing attorney at the DLC. “Being turned away from a rental unit because of one’s housing assistance is something that happens every day in Utah, and it often happens to the most vulnerable among us.” People with disabilities compose a large percentage of housing voucher holders. In addition, refugees and families at risk of homelessness often face difficulty finding a place to live due to discrimination based on their housing assistance or voucher.
In 2016, the DLC filed 26 fair housing complaints against landlords alleging discrimination based on disability, source of income, familial status and sexual orientation. The Fair Housing Program at the DLC provides services to people belonging to all protected classes throughout the state of Utah. The program assists individuals who have experienced housing discrimination, conducts fair housing testing, and provides education about housing rights to Utahns.
Papa John’s Pizza to Settle Employment Discrimination Case
The Disability Law Center is pleased to announce the settlement of an employment discrimination lawsuit. In order to resolve the lawsuit, Papa John’s will pay $125,000 and has agreed to provisions that include efforts to hire and recruit people with disabilities. Papa John’s employees will also receive robust training regarding their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
Scott Bonn worked at Papa John’s folding pizza boxes with the support of a job coach. One day, an operating partner visited the store while Scott was working. After the operating partner expressed concern that an individual not employed by the company (the job coach) was in the food preparation area, Papa John’s terminated Scott’s employment. When Scott’s parents contacted the DLC about this unfair treatment, the DLC attempted to resolve the matter directly with Papa John’s. Unfortunately, they would not allow Scott to have his job back, so the DLC filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and subsequently represented him throughout the EEOC’s administrative process. After a lengthy investigation, the EEOC found cause to believe Papa John’s had discriminated against Scott. The EEOC then filed a lawsuit against Papa John’s. While it is the EEOC’s role to represent the interests of the public in such a suit, the DLC joined the lawsuit in order to represent Scott’s interests.
The lawsuit asserted that Scott worked successfully at Papa John’s for 5 months with the assistance of an independently funded and insured job coach. The suit further alleged that Scott was fired simply because he had a job coach, a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. In reaction to the settlement terms, Laura Henrie, a Supervising Attorney at the DLC who acted as Scott’s counsel noted, “It is crucial for employers to live up to the standards set by the ADA and provide reasonable accommodations so that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce.” Ms. Henrie went on to say, “The failure to recognize a job coach as one possible reasonable accommodation severely limits the opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to access meaningful employment. We are hopeful that the settlement reached in this case will serve to educate employers about the skills and expertise Scott and employees like him can bring to bear when properly accommodated.”
The Bonn family is also pleased to have the case resolved, “Scott loved working at Papa John’s and was hurt when he was terminated. We are pleased that they now recognize a job coach as a reasonable accommodation and will not do this to anyone else,” said Bill Bonn, father of Scott Bonn. “We are excited that Papa John’s will begin to actively recruit and hire people with disabilities. This is a pool of potential employees who are underutilized and who want to work. They are some of the most loyal employees anyone can find. We are grateful to the DLC, especially Laura Henrie for almost 5 years of support.”
Note: Scott has since found other employment that he enjoys very much. The family reports that his job coach is wonderful and is an important component of his success at work.
What’s Fair?: Q&A’s on Reasonable Accommodations
Requesting and receiving reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is one of the most important resources for employees with disabilities to understand in order to contribute to their fullest. However, we recognize that this process can be difficult for many employees and often receive questions from concerned employees with disabilities. We hope that this discussion of some of the most common questions we receive about requesting and receiving reasonable accommodations will prove helpful in providing a better understanding of the process.
Question: Is it better to submit a written request for accommodation or to have a conversation with my supervisor / HR professional?
Answer: It depends upon the unique circumstances of your employment (how large the company is, the relationship you have with your supervisor, etc.) and either method is acceptable. One suggestion that is often effective, however, is to first have a conversation with your supervisor to state that you have a disability, describe how it is affecting you in the workplace, and list what reasonable accommodations you require to get your work done. Then, shortly after that conversation, email your supervisor and tell him/her that you appreciate his/her time and meeting with you earlier to discuss your requests. You can then politely summarize what requests you made and what follow-up you discussed, if any. You will then have a written record of your conversation, which will prove useful throughout this process.
Question: My employer says they have to “treat everyone equally” and cannot provide me with a reasonable accommodation because then everybody would want “special treatment.” Is this allowed?
Answer: No. If your employer is subject to the ADA, they have to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. The perception that providing a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability is somehow “unfair” to non-disabled employees is an unfortunate misconception and demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the ADA. If you encounter this misconception or attitude in your workplace, please feel free to contact the DLC.
Question: May somebody else request an accommodation on my behalf?
Answer: Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued clear guidance that in addition to requesting an accommodation for yourself, a family member, friend, health professional, or other representative may request an accommodation on your behalf. You do not, however, have to accept any reasonable accommodation that you believe is unnecessary.
Question: What can I do to help expedite the process of receiving a reasonable accommodation?
Answer: If your employer has to request medical information from your health care provider, let your health care provider know that such a request will be coming from your employer. Describe to your health care provider how your disability affects you in the workplace and what accommodations you have requested. Check in with your health care provider to ensure that she received the requested information from your employer and the she will be able to answer your employer’s questions in a timely manner.
Research possible reasonable accommodations for your medical condition through resources such as AskJan.org and, if possible, list multiple reasonable accommodations your employer may provide to eliminate whatever barriers are present for which you require reasonable accommodation.
Respond to all requests for additional information from your employer as quickly and completely as possible. If you have questions regarding a confusing question or feel that an employer’s question may be illegal, contact the DLC with your questions as quickly as possible.
Document all conversations regarding your request for accommodation with information regarding when you spoke about it, to whom, and what was stated.
Each conversation you have with your employer regarding your request for accommodation, ask when you will likely hear from them next. If that date passes without any information, politely follow-up with your employer.
Question: My employer does not seem to like me and I’m afraid that I will be fired if I ask for a reasonable accommodation. Can my employer terminate my employment for seeking a reasonable accommodation?
Answer: No. Your employer cannot terminate your employment simply for seeking a reasonable accommodation, as that would be a form of illegal retaliation under the ADA. Your employer also may not change the conditions of your employment simply because the employer is upset regarding your request for accommodation. For example, the employer may not decrease your salary, decrease your benefits, subject you to stricter scrutiny than before you made the request for accommodation, or subject you to intimidation or ridicule, because you made a request for accommodation.
For more information and discussion about reasonable accommodations in the workplace, including a sample letter for requesting reasonable accommodations, please visit our website. If you have any questions or we can provide further assistance tailored to your unique circumstances, please contact the DLC.
We Want Your Pictures
Do you have a picture of a Utahn with a disability? Does it capture how great it is for everyone when people live, learn, work or play in an integrated way? We want to share these type of images with our social media group and in future publications. If we decide to use your picture, we’ll even pay you for it. Here’s what to do:
1. Send your high resolution electronic image(s) to Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Include your name, telephone number, where you live, and some general information about the picture, such as where it was taken or what you are doing.
If the picture meets our needs, we’ll ask you to sign a release. Once it is received, we’ll pay you $5 for each picture we select. It’s that easy! So send us all of those great pics, we can’t wait to see what you’ve got to share!
General Election 2016: Voters with Disabilities Experience Survey
What was your voting experience like? How could it have been better? We’ve had a little breather from the excitement leading up to and including Election Day. We were out observing the process and we plan to share our observations with election officials and advocate for improvements. We want to include your feedback as well. If you are a person with a disability or if you assisted a person with a disability with voting, we want to hear from you.
This survey is sponsored by the Disability Law Center (DLC) of Utah. Our Voting Access Program’s primary goal is to ensure that Utah citizens with disabilities can engage in the electoral process. We work with election officials to improve voting accessibility. Your feedback about voting in 2016 will help us focus and strengthen our advocacy. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and please take a moment to share this survey widely within your own social network.
How to Receive Legislative Updates
Interested in the public policy and advocacy work that the DLC is doing this legislative session? On our website’s Public Policy page, you’ll find information and materials related to several bills that we’re tracking. To read weekly updates throughout the legislative session from our Public Policy Advocate, Andrew Riggle, check out the “Updates” section of the website. You’ll also find links to resources that can help you find out who your representatives are and how to contact them, how to track bills as they move through the legislative process, and more!