Can A Disability Discrimination Claim Be Barred By Workers' Compensation?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and related state legislation, eligible employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities—including workers who are injured on the job. The ADA also prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee (or job applicant) solely on the basis of a protected disability. But in some states, including Louisiana, ADA and other disability discrimination-related claims may be superseded by state workers' compensation statutes and regulations. Read on to learn more about a recent Louisiana court ruling on this topic and how this state and others handle disability discrimination allegations that stem from an on-the-job injury.

What did the Louisiana District Court recently decide?

In late February 2019, the federal district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana handed down a ruling (Peddy v. Aaron's, Inc.) deciding in favor of an injured employee's employer. After the employee was injured on the job nearly a decade ago, she filed a workers' compensation claim for her medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. In accordance with the ADA, the employer provided the employee with reasonable accommodations for her disability; but the employee alleged that seven years later, in 2016, the employer stopped making these accommodations, ultimately resulting in the termination of her employment. 

The employee then sued her employer, alleging that it had engaged in disability discrimination, disability-related harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. At the time she filed her discrimination lawsuit, her workers' compensation claim was still pending. Shortly thereafter, the employee settled the workers' compensation claim, and the settlement agreement included language waiving any other right to recover damages from her employer. The District Court dismissed her claim, holding that her agreement to waive all other claims against her employer superseded any right she might otherwise have to maintain a discrimination lawsuit.

How should employees proceed if they're injured on the job? 

Generally speaking, an employee who has a viable workers' compensation claim should pursue this claim before they consider filing a disability discrimination lawsuit. Most states have a statute of limitations for discrimination claims that's far longer than the time within which an employee must file a workers' compensation claim, so your odds of a quick financial recovery are far greater if you go the workers' compensation route. If you decide to settle your workers' compensation claim but think that you have a viable discrimination lawsuit, you'll probably want to avoid agreeing to language that waives your right to go after your employer for any additional damages. An attorney can help you navigate this process and ensure that your best interests are considered.