85,286 reasons not to treat an employee differently because their family member is disabled


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment. However, the ADA does not require an employer to assist a person without a disability due to that person’s association with someone with a disability. Still, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee or applicant because of that person’s association with someone with a disability.

It’s called associational discrimination.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it had sued a private school for associational discrimination because it allegedly decided not to renew a teacher’s contract because the teacher’s daughter had a disability.

According to the EEOC, the school assumed the girl’s disability, coupled with the COVID pandemic, would “undermine the teacher’s focus and commitment to her job.” Instead, the school renewed other teachers with less experience and tenure.

On Friday, Emmy Fredman of Law360.com reported that this lawsuit had settled for over $85,000.

Of the $85,286 deal, the school will pay $50,858 in back pay, $4,428 in interest on the back pay, and $30,000 in nonwage damages.

As part of the resolution, the school must provide equitable relief by developing and adopting an ADA policy; training the head of school, managers, HR, and others on employment discrimination and workplace accommodations; and posting a notice about the EEOC settlement.

While the school does not admit liability as part of the settlement, the EEOC contended that the school “relied on stereotypes and assumptions when it refused to renew this teacher because of unfounded concerns over her daughter’s disability, precisely the kind of conduct the ADA’s associational discrimination provision was intended to prohibit.”

While not a relatively common claim, the EEOC also stresses that the “ADA does not require a family relationship for an individual to be protected by the association provision. The key is whether the employer is motivated by the individual’s relationship or association with a person who has a disability.”

Additionally, while there is no duty to accommodate an individual without a disability because of their association with someone disabled, other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, may fill that gap. There may also be state or local laws that apply.

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