The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits, among many other things, employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities. In addition to protecting employees with disabilities, the law also protects employees who associate or have a relationship with another individual who has a disability. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the law concerning associational discrimination under the ADA and a recent appellate court decision related to such claims.
The explicit language of the ADA prohibits employers from denying jobs or benefits to individuals because of a known disability the individual has or because the individual is known to associate or have a relationship with another person who has a disability. In an associational discrimination disability case, plaintiffs must prove, among other elements, that an adverse employment decision was made “under circumstances” which allows an inference that the disability of a relative or associate caused the employer’s decision. One way to show this is by establishing distraction evidence. A plaintiff can show distraction with evidence that the employer was motivated to take action against the employee out of fear that the employee will not pay attention at work because of the disability of a disabled person.
In Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc., the plaintiff-employee worked as a laborer. Just months after starting work, the employee’s daughter was born with a neurological disorder. Later the next year, the employee told his supervisor about his daughter’s condition and that because of the condition, on occasion he would need to rush home to care for her. The employee alleged that after this disclosure, his work conditions deteriorated. For example, his work location changed and his coworkers were offered assignments at higher wages than he was assigned.