An employee, not otherwise disabled, is fired because he takes time off to care for a disabled son.  Is the ADA violated?  An employee is fired because of the disability of her spouse, who is also an employee at the same company. Is the ADA violated? 

There are two related concepts here: (1) “Associational discrimination,” where the Supreme Court held that, for example, the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII protects employees from retaliatory termination where that employee was the fiancé of another employee who exercised her rights under the statute to file a discrimination complaint; and (2) “Family responsibilities discrimination,” where it has been held 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.”

While one court stated that "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.”

An interesting decision has been handed down by an Employment Tribunal in the UK, in which the plaintiff employee was disabled with a degenerative disc disease, and her husband, also an employee, was similarly disabled, with leukemia. Plaintiff was required to take time off because of back pain, and for high blood pressure which she suffered when her husband required chemotherapy.

She was fired, and her manager stated that "if I had known about your husband’s illness I wouldn’t, no might not, have taken you on."

Under the Equality Act 2010, the Tribunal upheld her claims of both direct disability discrimination and discrimination by virtue of her association with her disabled husband.  The Tribunal held that that when the manager found out about the disabilities of both plaintiff and her husband he made a “stereotypical assumption” that plaintiff would be an unreliable and underperforming employee because of the disability of both parties, and plaintiff’s firing was therefore based upon plaintiff’s disability and by association with her husband’s disability.

One UK commentator called this “’double trouble’ for the employer as the dismissal was direct discrimination because of P[laintiff’s] own disability and her husband’s disability (associative discrimination).”

See Price v Action-Tec Services Ltd t/a Associated Telecom Solutions, ET 1304312/2011