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Employers May Be Required To Provide Reasonable Accommodation To Employees "Associated" With Someone With A Disability

April 08, 2016

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Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employer is prohibited from taking adverse action based upon the employee's association with another person who is, or is perceived to be, disabled. In Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, the California Court of Appeal held that FEHA also creates a duty to provide reasonable accommodation to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person.

In this case, the employer had accommodated the employee for many years with a work schedule that enabled him to leave work in time to administer his son's dialysis every evening. However, a new supervisor changed the employee's schedule. The employee objected and refused to work the later schedule. The employer terminated his employment because he refused a work assignment.

The employee sued for failure to provide reasonable accommodation and for "associational disability discrimination." The employer argued that it did not terminate the employee because of his association with his disabled son. The employer also argued that FEHA requires employers to make reasonable accommodation only for disabled employees, but not for employees who are associated with disabled people. The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer.

The Court of Appeal disagreed, first finding that, unlike under the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), an association with a physically disabled person, in and of itself, constitutes a disability under FEHA. On this basis, the Court of Appeal distinguished federal ADA cases, which determined that employers need not provide reasonable accommodation to employees who are relatives or associates of disabled people.

Instead, the Court of Appeal held that, under the FEHA, an employer's duty to make reasonable accommodation includes an obligation to accommodate an employee's association with a disabled person. Thus, based on this decision, an employer can be liable for failing to accommodate a nondisabled employee who is associated with a disabled person.

Employer Takeaways

If this California Court of Appeal decision stands and is not challenged or reversed by the Supreme Court, California employers will need to provide reasonable accommodation to employees who are "associated with" or provide care to someone with a physical or mental disability.

This publication was written by Emily Leahy and the Labor Section Client Services Team.

For more information, please contact:

Emily Leahy

415-995-5155 Direct Phone
415-995-3557 Fax

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Lisa Pooley

415-995-5051 Direct Phone
415-995-3405 Fax

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Dorothy Liu

415-995-5046 Direct Phone
415-995-3506 Fax

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