- The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated claims that an employee was demoted and then fired because his supervisor assumed he was distracted by his daughter's neurological impairment (Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc., No. 18-2385 (2nd Cir. Sept. 24, 2019)).
- John Kelleher sued after he was transferred from a position where his responsibilities included running controls on trucks to one where his primary responsibility was shoveling sewage. The court noted that Kelleher's relationship with his employer deteriorated after he told a supervisor that his daughter had recently been diagnosed with a neurological impairment and that there would be times he would have to rush home to help with her care.
- The 2nd Circuit noted that "though the [Americans with Disabilities Act] 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." The court said the supervisor's statement that Kelleher "leave his personal problems at home" after Kelleher's request for one week of shortened workdays supported his claim that his firing was motivated by associational discrimination.
The ADA protects qualified individuals with a disability from workplace bias. The federal law also protects workers against bias with a "known relationship or association" with someone who has a disability.
Employers are 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," according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The Commission has said in a guidance that employers may not fire, refuse to hire or deny a promotion to an employee who has an association with a person with a disability due to that association.
The EEOC provides the example of the president of a small company who learns that his administrative assistant, Sandra, has a son with an intellectual disability. The president transfers Sandra to a lower-level position in which he will have less contact with her to avoid any discussions about, or interactions with, Sandra's son. This is a violation of the ADA's association provision.
As the 2nd Circuit pointed out in this case, the ADA does not require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to a person without a disability because of that person's association with someone with a disability. Only qualified applicants and employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation.
But while the ADA would not require an employer to modify its leave policy for an employee who needs time off to care for a child with a disability, said the EEOC, the employer must avoid treating the employee differently than other employees because of his or her association with a person with a disability.