Can I Be Fired Because of My Stutter?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. It prohibits disability discrimination in employment, education, transportation, and public and private spaces. The law was designed to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as those without disabilities. ADA laws also protect a person who is perceived as having a disability.

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law and effective on January 1, 2009. The amendments made significant changes to the definition of disability. While it is not explicitly cited, the ADA defines a disability as a condition that impairs a major life function, such as walking, speaking, taking care of oneself, and working.

Stuttering limits a person’s ability to communicate. Most authorities would agree that communicating is the major life function of speaking, and in some cases, working. Therefore, speaking might fall under ADA definitions.

How Is a Stutterer Perceived?

Because the ADA covers perception of a disability, how people view those who stutter could be important. Many studies over the last few decades reveal there are negative perceptions and biases against those who stutter, including:

  • People who stutter are judged to be more submissive, tense, and insecure than their peers without a stutter.
  • They are judged to be more guarded and nervous, have less cognitive ability, be less likable, have lower self-esteem, and be less socially adjusted.
  • They are seen as less employable and have lower occupational competence.
  • They are less often promoted than their peers without a stutter.

These and other research results can be examples of unconscious bias, an attitude about groups of people that forms outside of a person’s conscious awareness. Even so, when an unconscious bias is against a protected characteristic, such as age, disability, gender identity, marital status, maternity, race, religion, belief, or sexual orientation, it can be discriminatory.

As a Person Who Stutters, How Do I Know if the ADA Covers Me?

The ADA covers qualified, disabled individuals who:

  • Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • Have a record of such an impairment.
  • Are regarded as having such an impairment.

A variety of major life activities are listed in the statute, including speaking and communicating. To be considered substantially limited, you need only one major life activity to be affected by stuttering, not multiple activities.

If you are a stutterer who is substantially limited in the major life activity of speaking, you may be considered disabled under the ADA. The determination of whether you are disabled is made without regard to mitigating measures you may use, such as a SpeechEasy device.

As far as being regarded as disabled, this part of the ADA acknowledges that society’s fears and myths about disabilities can be just as handicapping as the actual impairments. Therefore, even if your stuttering does not substantially limit your ability to speak, you still may be protected if your employer discriminates against you.

Concerning being considered qualified under the ADA, you must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation provided by your employer. The law requires that an employer make reasonable accommodation for the known disability of a qualified individual. You are responsible for making your employer aware that you need reasonable accommodation to perform your job. Note that individuals who only are regarded as disabled are not entitled to reasonable accommodations.

South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Fight for the Rights of Employees With Disabilities

Our South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC advocate for the rights of employees with disabilities. If you feel discriminated against at work, call us at 856-235-7075 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, and Camden County.