Disabled Floridians who are terminated from their positions of employment may seek relief under Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992, or the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Both statutes make it unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee, or otherwise discriminate against that employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the employee’s disability. The ADA also requires covered employers to make reasonable accommodations for qualified disabled applicants or employees so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. The Florida Civil Rights Act is to be interpreted in conformity with the ADA and the Federal Rehabilitation Act.
Claims of discrimination based on disability are governed by strict timelines and procedures. Prior to filing any claim in civil court, an employee must first file a complaint with either the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the EEOC, or any other appropriate state agency within 365 days of the alleged violation. In response, the employer may file an answer to the complaint within 25 days of the date that the complaint was filed with the Commission. The Commission then has 180 days to determine whether there is reasonable cause to find discrimination. If the Commission fails to act within the 180 day limit, the Commission is deemed to have found no reasonable cause. Where there is a finding of no reasonable cause, an employee has 35 days to request a hearing on the finding. If the employee filed a complaint with the EEOC, the EEOC may issue a “right to sue” letter requiring that any civil suit be filed within 90 days. However, if the Florida Commission on Human Relations issues a “right to sue” letter, a civil action must be brought under the Florida Civil Rights Act no later than 1 year from the date that the Commission determined that reasonable cause exists. The pre-suit filings do not toll the 4 year statute of limitations for actions against an employer.
In defending against a claim of disability discrimination, employers may consider several possible defenses, including the statute of limitations, any legitimate, non-pretextual reasons in support of the employer’s action, discharge in bankruptcy, arbitration, release, and laches.