Thursday, October 21, 2010

ADA Associational Discrimination - COTW #12

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines unlawful discrimination to include associational discrimination:
[E]xcluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association.
42 U.S.C. §12112(b)(4). This week's Lawffice Space employment law Case of the Week invokes the somewhat rare application of this ADA provision.

In Magnus v. St. Mark United Methodist Church, No. 10 C 380 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 19, 2010), an employee alleged that she was terminated because her daughter has various mental disabilities. The employee was late one day due to her daughter's medical emergency, and the employee had previously protested weekend hours due to her need to care for her daughter. Ultimately, her claim survived a motion to dismiss, but let's look at how these claims are analyzed.

The Court, relying on 7th Circuit precedent, enumerated four prongs necessary to establish a prima facie case of associational disability discrimination:
(1) the plaintiff was "qualified" for the job at the time of the adverse employment action;
(2) the plaintiff was subjected to adverse employment action;
(3) the plaintiff was known by his employer at the time to have a relative or associate with a disability; and
(4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances raising a reasonable inference that the disability of the relative or associate was a determining factor in the employer’s decision.
I practice in Pennsylvania (which is 3rd Circuit territory) and this exact test has been adopted by some of the district courts, including the Middle District of Pennsylvania. See Erdman v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 621 F. Supp. 2d 230, 234 (M.D. Pa. 2007) aff'd, 582 F.3d 500 (3d Cir. 2009). Note that the 3rd Circuit affirmed this decision but did not specifically enunciate a test for ADA associational claims.

Readers may also be interested to know that the Magnus Court noted the associational provisions of the ADA do not mandate that employers accommodate the mothers of individuals with disabilities. The 3rd Circuit case I just cited, Erdman, similarly noted that "the association provision does not obligate employers to accommodate the schedule of an employee with a disabled relative."

Hat tip to Andrew Slobodien via Twitter.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.