Fighting Discrimination Against People in Recovery from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

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Millions of American know addiction - but also know that recovery is possible, and brings untold benefits to individuals' health and lives. For many people in recovery, dealing with discrimination may also be a part of life. But this, too, can be overcome.

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What can you do if you believe you have been discriminated against?

You don't have to live with discrimination - you can act to stop or remedy it! You can consider several options for taking action:

  • Informal resolution. You many want to try to talk to the person who you believe has discriminated against you, and ask him or her why she or he took the action that you believe is discriminatory. This may accomplish two things. Getting the person to admit that the action was taken because of your drug or alcohol history will help you prove a claim if you decide to resort to formal legal proceedings. It may also give you an opportunity to sit down and discuss the matter, stress your qualifications and determine if the matter can be resolved informally.
  • Administrative appeals (sometimes). If you believe a government agency (such as a public employer or occupational licensing agency, public housing agency, or government benefits program) discriminated against you, you may have the right to challenge the action in an administrative appeal to that agency or another one designated to hear such appeals. Check to see if there is a deadline for appealing this way.
  • Formal legal challenges - charging a violation of the federal antidiscrimination laws that protect people disability-based discrimination, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you believe you have been or are being discriminated against because of your history of addiction in violation of these federal laws, you can challenge the violation of your rights in two ways: You may be able to get those charged with the discrimination to correct their actions and policies, compensate you or give you other relief.

  • Discrimination complaint - with federal (or state) agency. You may file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the federal agency(s) with power to investigate and remedy violations of the disability discrimination laws. In many states, these complaints may be filed with the state human rights agency. You do not need a lawyer to do this, and it can be faster and easier than a lawsuit and get you the same remedies.

Do not sleep on your rights! The deadline for filing these administrative complaints can be as soon as 180 days after the discriminatory act - or even sooner, with federal employers, so always check.

  • Discrimination lawsuit - in federal or state court. In most (but not all) cases, you may also file a lawsuit in federal or state court, in addition to or instead of filing an administrative complaint. Deadlines vary from one to three years.

If you are charging an employer with discriminating against you in violation of the federal American with Disabilities Act, take note: You first must file your employment discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). You may not file a lawsuit first or instead of filing with the EEOC.