An employee, not otherwise disabled, is fired because he takes time off to care for a disabled son. Is the ADA violated?

Yesterday we wrote about the concepts of “associational discrimination” and “family responsibilities discrimination,” in light of a new court decision that the ADA does not require employers to accommodate employees who do not themselves have a disability but seek an accommodated schedule to care for a disabled relative.

We just learned of a second federal appeals court decision in which an employee was required to take time off to care for his disabled son who suffers from cerebral palsy and severe asthma. He was fired, and claimed that he was discriminated against in violation of the ADA on the basis of his son’s disabilities — he claimed that the decision to terminate him was motivated by his relationship with his son.


The employer, however, adduced evidence that the employee tried to cause a slowdown in work by discouraging others from working overtime, and that this is what lead to his firing.


The Court stated that the ADA makes it unlawful to deny equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual “because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship.” The Court also stated that to establish a violation of the ADA, plaintiff must prove that the employer was motivated by knowledge of his son’s disability.


Ultimately, the Court held that the reason given for firing plaintiff constituted a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason.


While this is not precisely like the case we discussed yesterday, and the result was dictated by a different set of facts and claims, the point to be made – again — is that while "punishing someone because of who he or she associates with doesn’t pass the smell test,” nonetheless                      “[a]ssociational discrimination claims are unlike those otherwise falling under the ADA because employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations to non-disabled workers.”


In this case, the Court held that the employee was fired for reasons unrelated to his disabled son. But under the rationale of the case analyzed yesterday, what if he had been fired because he took an unapproved leave to care for his disabled son? Would this court have held differently? Would the court have held that the employee was fired not because of his association with his disabled son but because he had no right to an accommodation to take care of his son (as yesterday’s court held)? Or would the court have held that there was a violation of the ADA?