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Associational Discrimination and How it Relates to COVID-19

Posted on April 17, 2021 | Employment Law,Firm News,Wage & Hour Laws,Workplace Discrimination

Imagine asking for an accommodation at work so you can help a family member with a disability and you get terminated for making the request? Imagine in another scenario, your employer grants you the request but then terminates you shortly after? Is that discrimination, even though you are not the one who had the disability? In California, it is still considered discrimination.  More specifically, it is called “associational discrimination.”  Read below to see what that means.

The California Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee that is associated with a person who is part of a protected class.

In the court of appeal decision, Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express Inc., the plaintiff’s son had a physical disability and required daily home dialysis treatments and plaintiff was the only person in the household who knew how to operate the dialysis machine for his son.  Plaintiff’s supervisors knew of his son’s condition and he was accommodated by ending his shifts early enough to get home for his son’s treatments.  However, a new supervisor for plaintiff changed plaintiff’s hours such that plaintiff was starting his shifts later and finishing later and was unable to leave work early to tend to his son.  When plaintiff complained about the change in work schedule, the supervisor terminated him.

The Castro-Ramirez court found that a jury could reasonably conclude from the evidence that plaintiff’s association with his disabled son was a substantial motivating reason in the decision to terminate him.  Plaintiff’s supervisor knew that plaintiff had a need to leave work early to tend to his son.  However, he scheduled plaintiff later than plaintiff had ever started before and scheduled other individuals for earlier times.

How Does This Affect Employee Rights Regarding COVID-19?

Associational Discrimination can come up during the pandemic we are currently facing. For example, if an employee’s family member (wife, son, daughter) develops a serious case of COVID-19 that would require hospitalization or something similar to that, the family member’s condition could qualify as a disability. If the employee requests an accommodation to care for that family member, such as by requesting to leave work early or take a few days off from work, it would be illegal for the employer to terminate the employee for those reasons. If the employee gets terminated for complaining about not being granted the accommodations, that would be illegal as well.

If you believe you were the victim of associational discrimination, feel free to contact us at 310-553-5630 for a free case evaluation.

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