Disabled Workers: New Ruling Highlights Key Differences Between ADA And California Law

Although the disability provisions of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) were modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the two laws have some key differences—and the California rules provide greater protection for disabled employees. We’ll tell you about a new ruling from a federal court in San Francisco that focuses on these differences.

Monocular Employees Sue

Tim Hancock, Jeffrey Morales, Greg Quiroz, and Mark Jensen are longtime employees of United Parcel Service (UPS) who are monocular. They sued UPS, claiming the company violated the FEHA’s disability-bias provisions by refusing them jobs as full-time package-car delivery drivers because they are blind in one eye. They asserted their eyesight impairment amounted to a physical disability because it limited their major life activity of working.

UPS argued the employees were not disabled. Based on court opinions interpreting the federal ADA, the company contended that to be limited in the major life activity of working, an individual had to be unable to perform a broad range of jobs. But here, UPS claimed, the employees were only unable to perform a specific job for one employer.

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FEHA More Protective of Disabled Workers

A federal court in San Francisco has now ruled the employees are disabled under the FEHA and the case can proceed to trial. The court explained that the FEHA’s disability bias provisions were amended in 2001 to protect disabled workers more broadly than the ADA. A major life activity need only be “limited” by the impairment—rather than substantially limited as the ADA requires. This means the impairment need only make achieving the major life activity difficult.

Also, the court explained, the amended FEHA states that work is a major life activity regardless of whether the limitation affects a single job with just one employer or a class or broad range of jobs. In contrast, under the ADA, exclusion from a single job typically doesn’t constitute a substantial limitation on working.

The court went on to state that even though the employees in this case are disabled, to prove UPS violated the FEHA they still must convince a jury they are as qualified to drive the company’s trucks as the individuals UPS currently employs. If they can’t drive as safely, UPS doesn’t have to hire them.

Other Important Differences

There are two other significant variances between the FEHA and ADA:


  1. Smaller employers covered. The FEHA applies to employers with five or more employees, except for religious organizations and not-for-profit corporations. The ADA applies only to employers with 15 or more employees, and it does apply to some religious organizations.


  2. Mitigating measures not considered. The FEHA requires employers to ignore corrective measures—such as eyeglasses or hearing aids—when determining whether a worker is disabled. Such corrective measures must be considered under the ADA.


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