165,000 reasons to remember that associational discrimination violates the ADA


165,000 reasons meaning 165,000 dollars. But, you probably figured that out.

What the heck is associational discrimination?

Well, funny you should ask because, last Summer, I had a post about it. In the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act, associational discrimination occurs when a company excludes or otherwise denies equal jobs or benefits to someone because he or she has a relationship with or associates with someone else who has a disability.

The inspiration for last year’s associational discrimination post was a lawsuit that the EEOC had filed against a New Mexico medical facility alleging — yep, gold star for you — association discrimination under the ADA.

How do you think that turned out?

According to this EEOC press release, the employer learned a $165,000 lesson (in addition to what the employer had to pay its own attorneys, I imagine):

According to EEOC’s suit, NMOA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing Melissa Yalch Valencia, a temporary staffing agency employee, and failing to hire her for a full-time position because of her relationship with her then three-year old daughter, who had disabilities or was regarded as disabled.

“The ADA specifically prohibits discrimination against mothers, fathers, caregivers, family members or others who are associated with persons with disabilities,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “Employers, especially those employers in medical fields, should be careful to provide employment opportunities based solely on the qualifications of the employee or applicant and not impermissible factors such as their association with an individual with a disability.”

Discrimination victim Melissa Yalch Valencia said, “It should never have happened. A mother should never have to worry about losing her job because her child has a disability. I hope the lawsuit encourages moms and dads to stand up fearlessly when things like this happen. I also hope this lawsuit and this resolution encourages companies to train supervisors and employees to assure things like this don’t happen in the workplace.”

So…how can employers prevent these problems?

Just as you wouldn’t want your managers asking applicants about their own disabilities during a job interview — you cannot do that, you know — please train them not to ask about the disabilities of others with whom the applicant may associate.

For your current workforce, the ADA does not require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to a person without a disability due to that person’s association with someone with a disability. However, if an employee needs time off to care for loved one with a disability, that employee may quality for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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