Remember that the ADA Protects an Association with a Disabled Individual


A recent case is a good reminder that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against non-disabled employees based on their association with a disabled individual.

In Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc., an employee told his supervisor that his daughter had severe medical issues, and thereafter his employment relationship began to deteriorate, with less favorable assignments. In a meeting in which he was told that he could not leave work to care for his daughter immediately after his shift in case of emergencies on-site, he asked to work one week of shortened days. He was allegedly told to “leave his personal problems at home” and that he would not receive a raise. He missed the next workday because his daughter suffered a medical emergency, and was then demoted. Several weeks later, he was late for work and was subsequently terminated. He then sued under the ADA, and the company argued that he was terminated because he was unable to work the required hours and he had no right to an accommodation.

The court noted that, “[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.” (Emphasis in original). In this case, the negative employment actions in the context of the manager’s comments about the employee’s “problems at home were not the company’s problems” were sufficient to raise an inference that the company’s concern about the employee’s daughter being a distraction was a determining factor in the termination decision.