The right to be accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to employees’ own disabilities.  In other words, an employee doesn’t have the right to an accommodation related to the disability of his or her spouse or children.

However, under the unfortunate category of [deep breath] “if-the-employer-acts-thoughtlessly-enough-the-court-will-find-a-way-to-rule-in-favor-of-the-mistreated-employee-and-create-new-case-law-that-will-generate-complexities-for-everyone-one-else,” the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently expanded the theory of associational discrimination to help an employee who had been harshly treated by his employer as a result of his daughter’s disability.

Associational discrimination—as the name implies—is discrimination based upon associating with someone belonging to a protected class (e.g., a racist manager fires a white employee because she is married to an African American individual).  Associational discrimination is prohibited under the ADA (a classic example would be not hiring a particular applicant because she has a son who is severely disabled).

But in this case, the court found that the supervisor demanding that the employee “leave his personal problems at home” after he requested short-term schedule adjustments to care for his disabled daughter, and demoting and then terminating the employee out of “fear” that he would be “distracted” at work due to his daughter’s disability, could be viewed by a jury as associational discrimination.

In sending the case back to the trial court, the 2nd Circuit stated: “[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.

Many potent ADA cases are being generated by thoughtless and harsh managerial responses that are completely avoidable.  Training managers on how to respond to employee medical issues—and the medical issues involving the employee’s family members—is essential.


This information is not provided as legal advice