Article by: Nicole Buonocore Porter

43 PEPP. L. REV. 213 (2016)

This Article explores a unique source of stigma suffered by individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Instead of focusing on those with the most stigmatizing disabilities, I focus on those individuals who have disabilities that are not perceived as very severe, yet they still suffer stigma. These individuals are stigmatized because of the special treatment they receive (or are perceived as receiving) through workplace accommodations provided pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In prior work, I have called this phenomenon “special treatment stigma,” the harm that arises from receiving special treatment in the workplace, especially when coworkers believe that the special treatment is unwarranted or unfair. In this Article, I explore the scope and magnitude of the harm experienced by individuals with disabilities because of special treatment stigma. This stigma not only manifests itself in resentment and other negative treatment of individuals with disabilities by their coworkers, but it also can cause employers to avoid accommodations that place any burdens on other employees, which limits the ability to accommodate the employee with the disability.

After describing the concept of special treatment stigma, this Article turns to exploring whether the ADA Amendments Act will exacerbate or improve the problem of special treatment stigma. Because the ADA Amendments Act has made it much easier to prove that an individual has a disability and therefore might be entitled to a reasonable accommodation, it is likely that there will be many more individuals requesting and receiving workplace accommodations. Thus, this increase in accommodations could exacerbate the problem of special treatment stigma, especially if some of these individuals have what are perceived as relatively minor impairments. On the other hand, as more individuals are considered disabled under the ADA, we could possibly see a growing acceptance of individuals with disabilities; thus, requesting and receiving accommodations might become the “new normal.”

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