“Distraction” May Be Associational Discrimination Under ADA, But Not Here


While rejecting an employee’s claim that he was subjected to unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act for his association with his disabled grandfather, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit explained the major forms of associational discrimination, including “distraction.”

In Pierri v. Medline Industries, Inc., the employee requested and was granted leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for his ailing grandfather. According to the employee, his supervisor then became so hostile to him that he was forced to take FMLA for his own mental health condition. He never returned from that leave, and was eventually terminated from the company. He then sued, alleging that he was discriminated against due to his association with his disabled grandfather.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against an employee because of the known disability of an individual with whom the employee is associated. The Seventh Circuit noted that it has previously identified three (non-exhaustive) situations in which claims of associational discrimination exist: (1) “expense,” where the employee’s family member has a disability that is costly under the employer’s health plan; (2) “disability by association,” where the employer fears that the employee will be infected with their associate’s disease; and (3) “distraction,” where “the employee is somewhat inattentive at work because his spouse or child has a disability that requires his attention, yet not so inattentive that to perform to his employer’s satisfaction he would need an accommodation.” In this case, the employee claimed “distraction,” but offered no evidence in support of this contention. Thus, according to the Seventh Circuit, he had no claim for associational discrimination.