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Associational Disability Discrimination in Employment

Most employers and employees are aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination and harassment against employees who have a disability.  However, a lesser known issue is that the law also prevents discrimination against employees (and job applicants) based on their relationship or association with an individual with a disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). This is known as associational disability discrimination, and the ramifications are just as severe as directly discriminating against an employee with a disability.

The following are examples of situations that would likely result in a violation of the law based on associational disability discrimination, some of which are based on guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

  • An employer is interviewing job applicants. One of the job applicants discloses that she has a child with a disability.  The employer decides not to hire the applicant because of its belief that her need to care for her child will have a negative impact on her work attendance or performance.
  • An employee volunteers at a homeless shelter known for providing services to people with HIV/AIDS. The employer finds out about this and fires the employee either because it is concerned about its “image” of having an employee working with people with HIV/AIDS or because it has an irrational fear that the employee may contract or spread HIV/AIDS.
  • A current employee disclosed to her employer that her sister and mother had breast cancer. The employer decides to terminate her because it is concerned that the employee will also get breast cancer and have to take off too much time from work.  (This may also be a violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.)
  • An employer provides health insurance to its full time employees and dependents. It is considering one of its part-time employees for an open full time position.  The employer learns that this individual has a spouse with a disability.  The employer determines that providing insurance to his spouse will lead to increased health insurance costs and decides not to offer him the job based on this reason.

Although there is no obligation for an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are merely associated with a person with a disability, employees cannot be subject to unlawful harassment based on their association with a person with a disability .

If you believe you may have been discriminated against based simply on your association with a person with a disability, contact Sud Law P.C. to evaluate your potential case.