Uptick in disability discrimination claims could jeopardize hiring goals, firm says

Monday - 10/15/2012, 9:07pm EDT

John Mahoney, chairman of the labor and employment practice group, Tully Rinckey

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In a July 2010 executive order, President Barack Obama pushed agencies to hire more people with disabilities, aiming for 100,000 additional workers by 2015. Agencies have made steady progress toward that goal, employing more people with disabilities at the end of the last fiscal year than ever before.

However that progress could be in jeopardy: Complaints alleging disability discrimination in federal hiring and appointments have ticked upward over the past five years, according to an analysis of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data on the federal workforce.

Between fiscal 2006 and 2011, those complaints rose by 32 percent, according to law firm Tully Rinckey's analysis.

"With those numbers ... that certainly can't help" meet the President's goal, said John Mahoney, the chair of the firm's labor and employment practice group, in an interview on Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp

Disabled federal employees also face a number of other forms of discrimination, and complaints in many of those areas have increased over the past five years, Mahoney said.

Complaints of disability discrimination related to performance appraisals increased 37 percent, harassment claims rose by 8 percent and complaints about reasonable accommodations increased 10 percent, according to the firm.

Overall discrimination complaints down last year

More recently, however, an encouraging trend has emerged. Between 2010 and 2011, the overall number of disability discrimination complaints declined by 6 percent, Mahoney said.

"If the trend continues to go the way it's gone this last year, that marks a good thing for the disabled workers of the federal government," Mahoney said.

The federal government made gains in other areas as well. For example, between 2006 and 2011, complaints alleging discrimination against disabled employees in pay and assignment of duties dropped by double digits.

Mahoney said part of the reason for the increases in some of the areas may be because of increased awareness of discrimination.

"Through educational outreach by agencies as well as enforcement action by the EEOC, federal supervisors and managers are becoming more aware and more sensitive to the needs of disabled workers and the need for reasonable accommodation," he said.

In addition, a 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act has made it easier to establish disability discrimination cases, Mahoney said.

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