September 24, 2019

The 4th Prong of ADA Protection: Association Discrimination

An employee claimed he was fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He alleged he was fired as a result of discrimination because he associated with a person with a disability (his daughter) and that his employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for him. On September 24th the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor on the discrimination claim, but not on the claim for failure to provide reasonable accommodation. Why?

Most of us know that the ADA prohibits discrimination in employment against an individual with a present or past disability or whom we perceive to have a disability.  Lesser known may be the association provision.  The ADA does not require a reasonable accommodation for a person who associates with an individual with a disability. It does prohibit discrimination on the basis of association.

In the case, the judge found:

  1. shortly after the employee told his supervisor that he might need intermittent time off to care for his daughter, he was assigned to work at a lower rate of pay;
  2. the employee’s request to leave after an eight-hour shift was denied;
  3. the day after he was absent to care for his daughter, he was demoted;
  4. a few weeks later, after he arrived at work 10-15 minutes late, he was told to go home and would be called when he was needed; and
  5. about a month later, he received a notice of termination dated the prior month.


The judge noted that on one occasion, the employee’s supervisor told the employee that his “problems were not the company’s problems” and to “leave his personal problems at home.” The judge found, “These allegations provide all that is needed to raise a minimal inference that [the] employer thought that [the employee’s] daughter was a distraction, and concern over distraction was a ‘determining factor’ in [the employee’s] termination.”

Lessons learned? Train your managers! An employee’s initial burden of proof in this type of claim is “minimal and de minimis.”  These isolated remarks were enough to grant the employee’s appeal and keep the case alive.  Give your managers and supervisors bells and whistles, things to listen for to give them a clue to CALL HR!