Anyone who suffers from stuttering or any other type of speech impediment knows that it can be extremely difficult to clearly communicate. In some cases, involuntary pauses occur when the person is unable to produce the word or phrase that they are trying to communicate, which often results in a period of awkward silence.
Stuttering can be particularly stressful in the workplace where it is essential to be able to communicate with co-workers, employers, customers, and clients. People with speech impediments like stuttering are often discriminated against in the workplace and denied certain employment opportunities due to their stutter. However, according to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), discrimination on the basis of stuttering is prohibited by a number of anti-discrimination laws. If you have been discriminated against due to a stutter, you are urged to contact an employment lawyer at your earliest convenience.
What Is Stuttering?
Also referred to as stammering, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) describes stuttering as a speech disorder that involves repeating the same sound, word, or phrase. These are known as disfluencies. There are different types of disfluencies, including repeating parts of words, stretching out a sound, or having a difficult time getting a word out. However, stuttering can also cause the person to experience extreme stress, tension, and insecurity when it comes to communicating and talking to other people. They may avoid certain situations that are particularly stressful and cause an increase in disfluencies. In some cases, even if a person has a slight stutter, it can have a substantial impact on their daily life and career.
The following are some of the common signs of stuttering:
- Repetition of a sound, syllable, or word.
- Difficulty starting a word, phrase, or sentence.
- Prolonging a word or sound within a word.
- Repeating extra sounds when the person has difficulty moving on to the next word.
- Excess tension or movement of the face to produce a word.
- Anxiety about talking.
How Common Is Stuttering?
Stuttering is more common among children. In fact, one in 10 children in the United States stutter for a period of time. While many of these children lose their stutter as they grow up, approximately, 25 percent of them continue to stutter into adulthood. That means there are close to three million Americans who stutter.
There is no cure for stuttering, but there are a wide range of exercises and strategies that are effective at minimizing a stutter.
Do People Who Stutter Face Frequent Employment Discrimination?
According to a board member and special projects chair of the National Stuttering Association, employers often make the inaccurate assumption that people who stutter are less competent and do not have the same cognitive ability as other potential employees. In addition, people who stutter are often seen as acting nervous or lacking confidence, despite the fact that many individuals who stutter are actually quite confident and possess a strong work ethic, as well as other valuable qualities.
According to a National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health that included over 13,500 respondents, people who stutter earn an average of $7,000 a year less than employees that do not have speech impediments. This wage gap affected women in particular. Too often, employers make the inaccurate and unfair assumption that a person who stutters is less competent and does not have the same cognitive ability or potential as employees who do not stutter.
What Types of Discrimination Do Employees Who Stutter Face?
Employees in any industry or line or work may be the target of discriminatory behavior if they stutter or have some other type of speech impediment. Interestingly, over 10 percent of people who stutter work in the food service industry, including at busy restaurants as servers. For people who stutter, the mere thought of working in a crowded restaurant and having to speak to customers is terrifying. However, according to a study from the University of Iowa, people who stutter are close to 45 percent more likely to work in food prep and serving than non-stutterers. In fact, the position of supervisor of food preparation and food service workers is the third most common job for people who stutter.
Is Stuttering Covered Under the ADA?
The ADA prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals on the basis of a disability. In order to be considered a disabled person, you must have a physical or mental impairment that limits your ability to carry out major life activities, have a record of such an impairment, or be regarded as having such an impairment. Speaking and communicating are considered a major life activity in the statute. That means that if you stutter and it substantially limits your ability to speak, you may be considered disabled under the ADA.
Unfortunately, many employers are unaware of anti-discrimination laws that protect those who stutter, or they are unaccepting of the laws. In addition, employees who stutter are not always quick to exercise their rights within the legal system because they do not want to see themselves as a disabled person. The stigma associated with stuttering needs to be eliminated so that employees are not treated unfairly or discriminated against in the workplace.
What Should I Do if I am Discriminated Against at Work for Stuttering?
Oftentimes, employers will not hire someone who stutters because they assume that the stutter reflects a lack of intelligence or confidence. Other times, an employer may not promote an employee who has a stutter, despite the fact that they are a stellar performance record, works well with others, is a strong problem-solver, and is a dependable, reliable, and responsible employee.
There are steps you can take to protect your rights if you have been discriminated against because of your stutter. You may pursue a disability claim against your employer by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An experienced employment lawyer will help you navigate the claims process.
What Damages am I Entitled to in a Discrimination Case?
If you were discriminated against by your employer or other employees because of your stuttering, you may be entitled to the following damages:
- Economic damages: These are the monetary losses that are easily quantifiable, including compensation for past and future lost wages. There is no cap on economic damages.
- Non-economic damages: These refer to the most subjective losses that are not as easily quantifiable, including pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. There are caps on non-economic damages based on the number of employees that are employed at the company.
- Punitive damages: These are meant to punish your employer if they engaged in intentional misconduct. In some cases, punitive damages are not awarded, so it is important to discuss your case with a skilled employment lawyer.
Chester County Employment Discrimination Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Those Who Have Experienced Disability Discrimination
If you have been discriminated against at work because of a stutter or some other type of speech impediment, it is in your best interest to contact one of our Chester County employment discrimination lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.