Labor and Employment

eBay Accused of Violating Disability Laws

The internet mega-store, eBay, has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success as America's favorite online auction site. Along with that comes attention - good and bad. The site is now getting more unwanted attention: A federal lawsuit accuses eBay of discriminating against disabled people.

Suit against eBay for Discrimination

A hearing impaired woman sued the internet auction giant eBay, claiming that its system of seller registration discriminates against people with disabilities. In the registration process, eBay places an automated telephone call to potential sellers and requires them to follow the steps outlined in the call. As a result, she claims she hasn't been able to sell items through eBay.

The woman filed suit in federal court in Missouri. She says the way the registration system is set up violates both federal and California laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled people.

The suit is still pending, and it's unknown whether the case will settle or progress toward a jury trial. Lawsuits can often take several years before they're over, and most end in settlement.

ADA Protection for Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important law passed to protect the rights of disabled people. It affects employers, public areas, and private businesses.

For example, private businesses putting up a new building have to meet ADA requirements for accessibility. And employers have to make "reasonable accommodations" for potential or current employees who have a disability affecting how they're able to do their job.

Some states such as California have their own laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled people. For either state or federal suits, there are very strict deadlines for when and how you must notify your employer of alleged discrimination.

Check the state or federal government web sites describing the laws, or discuss with an attorney. This will help you understand when and how to give this notice before you consider filing a lawsuit.

Who Is an "Employer"?

An important factor in ADA cases is whether there was an employer-employee relationship. If you're claiming discrimination and aren't an employee but an independent contractor, you might not have the same ability to sue. A court will look at the freedom and independence you have to direct your own work, set your hours and receive pay.

This is a legal question for someone with expertise in the area. However, there might be other legal grounds to sue besides the ADA or state discrimination laws. Some cases have shown that the question of who is an employee isn't an easy one.

In Illinois, a court recently decided messengers working for a courier delivery service in Chicago were really employees, even though the company called them independent contractors. The messengers were told when, where and how to make their deliveries. The company also evaluated and monitored the messenger. The court concluded, they were employees and were entitled to unemployment compensation benefits.

It remains to be seen if a similar argument could be made in the eBay case. Proving eBay is an employer could be difficult. However, no matter how the case ends, either with a court's judgment or the parties' settling, it might mean changes in the mega auction site's systems and practices.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Who or what determines that I have a disability my employer needs to take into account?
  • How do I file a claim under the ADA?
  • Does every disability need to have arrangements at work made?
  • How does the ADA apply to other areas besides employment?
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