Federal and state laws on disability rights could work hand in hand in protecting qualified employees who have disabilities from discrimination in the workplace.

In fact, the Equal Employment and Opportunities Commission (EEOC), who handles Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA cases, and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), who handles Fair Employment and Housing Act or FEHA cases, are able to handle disability discriminations together, although one of the agencies will be taking the lead over the other.

However, most would recommend filing the discrimination complaint with the state's DFEH instead of EEOC.

To help you understand why, here are some of the main difference between ADA and FEHA:

Scope of Coverage

ADA covers all employers who have 15 or more employees while FEHA covers all employers in California with 5 or more employees.

So if you're a disabled employee of a small business in California, you may be covered under FEHA but not under ADA.

Limitations on Major Life Activities

To be considered disabled, you must have a physical or mental impairment that severely limits one or more major life activity.

However, FEHA's standard on limited major activities is significantly lower compared to ADA.

In fact, FEHA considers a "job" as a major life activity and a worker can be considered disabled if his condition limits him in performing just one activity.

So if a worker is unable to work because of his condition, he is considered disabled under FEHA and may need reasonable accommodations.

Mitigating Conditions

Under ADA, the evaluation of a condition to be considered a disability is reviewed on mitigated status.

This means that if you took measures to lessen the effect of the disability such as getting a hearing aid for your hearing problem, you may not be considered disabled because it no longer limits your ability to work.

Under FEHA, the disabling condition is reviewed on an unmitigated state, which increases the chances of being considered disabled.


One of the major advantages of FEHA over ADA is that it allows the offending employer to be required to pay punitive damages.

This is usually rewarded to the discriminated disabled employee if the actions of the employer were intentional, malicious or reckless.

This also includes actions of company executives, managers, supervisors and officers as their actions would reflect upon the business itself.

Disability discrimination cases can be very difficult to prove so it would be advisable if you would hire the services of an expert employment law attorney to help you pursue your case.