Know Your Rights and Responsibilities


The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. Discrimination is when you are being treated unfairly or unequally because of your disability. There are many ways that an employer can discriminate against you, including:

  • Intentionally not giving you the same job opportunities or benefits as nondisabled coworkers, such as
    • A job
    • A promotion
    • A competitive salary
  • Unintentionally denying you job opportunities or benefits
  • Retaliating against you (getting back at you) because of your disability, which can include:
    • Coercion, which means forcing you to do something against your will
    • Intimidation, which means frightening or bullying you to follow the employer’s demands
    • Harassment, which means bothering you with unwanted actions or demands
  • Interfering with you, which means making it impossible for you to enjoy the same rights and benefits at work as your nondisabled coworkers

Intentional discrimination happens for many reasons. For example, when an employer does not want to pay for your reasonable accommodations or looks down on you because you are disabled, the employer may do something unfair to you on purpose.

Unintentional discrimination usually happens because an employer evaluates or promotes employees in a way that puts disabled people at a disadvantage. The employer usually does not mean to discriminate and does not realize that certain actions or practices are discriminatory.


An employer hiring heavy equipment operators requires job applicants to take a written test. If a job applicant with dyslexia takes the test, he could be denied the job because he has difficulty reading. This would be unintentional discrimination, because the ability to perform on a written exam is not an important skill for operating heavy machinery. The practice of requiring the written exam puts an entire group at an unfair disadvantage due to their disability. If an exam is necessary, the employer must offer the test in an alternate format that would best accommodate the applicant.

Retaliation by an employer may happen if a person with a disability or someone on their behalf filed a complaint, gave evidence, or otherwise participated in an investigation to enforce the ADA.

How Do I File a Complaint?

If you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your disability, you can file a complaint with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR). Private lawsuits are an option, but you cannot file a lawsuit until after the EEOC or MDHR has investigated your complaint and given you a notice that is called “a right to sue” letter.

You have to file your discrimination complaint within a certain amount of time or you lose your right to sue. To file your complaint with the EEOC, you have to do so within 300 days (or 10 months) of the date you were discriminated against. If you file your complaint with the MDHR, you have to do it within 365 days (or 12 months) of the date you were discriminated against. However, you should not wait until this timeframe is expiring; try to file your complaint as soon as you have decided that it is necessary to do so. Contact information for the 2 agencies is included later in this article.

If you have been discriminated against, you have the right to a solution that will place you in the position you would have been in if the discrimination had never occurred. This means you may be entitled to getting hired, back pay, or getting reasonable accommodations. You may also qualify to have the employer pay your attorney's fees. To find out whether you qualify as having been discriminated against, you need to file a complaint with the EEOC or MDHR.

Should I File My Complaint with the EEOC or the MDHR?

It may seem confusing that there are two very similar laws and agencies that protect individuals with disabilities. You may wonder which one is the best. The truth is that the laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), are almost identical. Furthermore, the agencies enforcing these laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), actually work together when you file a claim of discrimination. So, in most cases it doesn’t matter which office you choose to file your complaint with.

What you should do when you file a claim with either agency is to tell them to “cross-file” with the other agency. That means that they’ll make sure that your complaint is actually filed with both agencies.

However, there is one significant difference between the two laws: the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. If you work for a smaller employer, you should file your complaint with the MDHR.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

To file a discrimination charge through the EEOC, you can contact any EEOC field office, located in cities throughout the United States. To contact the EEOC, call them on the phone at 1-800-669-4000 (TTY 1-800-669-6820).

The only EEOC office located in Minnesota is in Minneapolis:

Towle Building
330 South Second Avenue, Suite 720
Minneapolis, MN 55401-2224

The EEOC’s website includes good information about how the actual process of filing a complaint works.

Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR)

To file a discrimination charge through the MDHR, call them on the phone at 651-296-5663 (TTY 651-296-1283) or toll-free at 1-800-657-3704.

Their main office is located at:

Sibley Square at Mears Park
190 E. 5th Street, Suite 700
St. Paul, MN 55101

You can also file your complaint by email or submit your complaint online. Click here to report if you have experienced or witnessed an incident of discrimination or bias.

Filing a Complaint if You Work for the Federal Government

The ADA does not apply to the federal government. However, the federal government has to follow a very similar law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you work or are applying for a job with the federal government and think that you have been discriminated against because you have a disability, you cannot file your complaint with the EEOC. Instead, you need to file a complaint with the federal agency the employer is part of. The EEOC has a brief article explaining this process.

Protection and Advocacy

You can also contact your state’s Protection and Advocacy center when you have questions or problems with reasonable accommodations at work or when you think you are being treated unfairly because of your disability. Minnesota’s Protection and Advocacy organization is the Minnesota Disability Law Center. Social Security has a page describing what Protection and Advocacy can and can’t help with.

Additional Resources

These organizations can give you additional information about the ADA and other laws that protect your rights.

  • ADA Minnesota is based at the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living and offers information about the ADA. Telephone: 651-603-2015, TTY: 651-603-2001, Toll-free: 1- 888-630-9793.
  • DBTAC: Great Lakes ADA Center offers training and assistance related to the ADA. Telephone/TTY: 1-800-949-4232.
  • The Minnesota State Council on Disability is a state agency that educates and informs about different disability issues. Telephone/TTY: 651-361-7800; toll-free voice/TTY: 1-800-945-8913.

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