The association provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against an employee or applicant because of a known relationship or association with a person with a known disability. This means that an employer is prohibited from making adverse employment decisions based on unfounded concerns about the known disability of a family member or anyone else with whom the applicant or employee has a relationship or association.
A recent case is a good reminder that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against non-disabled employees based on their association with a disabled individual.
In Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc., (Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc., No. 18-2385 (2d Cir. 2019)] an employee told his supervisor that his daughter had severe medical issues, and thereafter his employment relationship began to deteriorate, with less favorable assignments. In a meeting in which he was told that he could not leave work to care for his daughter immediately after his shift in case of emergencies on-site, he asked to work one week of shortened days. He was allegedly told to “leave his personal problems at home” and that he would not receive a raise. He missed the next workday because his daughter suffered a medical emergency and was then demoted. Several weeks later, he was late for work and was subsequently terminated. He then sued under the ADA, and the company argued that he was terminated because he was unable to work the required hours and he had no right to an accommodation.
The court noted that, “[t]hough the ADA does not require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to the nondisabled associate of a disabled person, an employer’s reaction to such a request for accommodation can support an inference that a subsequent adverse employment action was motivated by associational discrimination.” (Emphasis in original). In this case, the negative employment actions in the context of the manager’s comments about the employee’s “problems at home were not the company’s problems” were sufficient to raise an inference that the company’s concern about the employee’s daughter being a distraction was a determining factor in the termination decision.
The ADA does not require a family relationship for an individual to be protected by the association provision. The key is whether the employer is motivated by the individual’s relationship or association with a person who has a disability.
Some examples of prohibited employer conduct include, but are not limited to:
**Making an adverse employment decision based on concerns about the disabilities of people with whom the employee has an association.
**Refusing to hire an applicant based on employer’s belief that the applicant’s need to care for his or her child with a disability will have a negative impact on the applicant’s work attendance or performance.
**Rejecting an applicant or terminating an employee based on the increased health insurance costs that are or will be caused by a spouse’s disability.
**Reducing the level of health insurance benefits the employer offers to an employee because his or her spouse has a disability, or subjecting an employee to different terms or conditions of insurance.
While the ADA prohibits adverse employment action based on association, it does not require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to a person without a disability due to that person’s association with someone with a disability. Only qualified applicants and employees with disabilities or perceived to have disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation.
However, an employer must avoid treating an employee differently than other employees because of his or her association with a person with a disability. For example, if an employer grants requests for unpaid leave for certain personal or family reasons, it is a violation of the ADA’s association provision to deny a leave request because an employee wishes to use the time to assist a relative or a friend with a disability. Similarly, an employer is not required to provide additional health insurance coverage to an employee who is associated with a person with a disability.
(This case based on a September 2019 Court Ruling)