Human Resources News & Insights

EEOC sues employer for discrimination by association: What’s that?

A lawsuit that was just filed provides a powerful reminder of ADA protections some employers — and especially their managers — may not have known about. 

Have you heard of discrimination by association? It’s illegal under the ADA.

The ADA describes it as:

“excluding or otherwise denying 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 or association …”

Translation: You can’t take an adverse employment action against an individual because he or she may have to care for — or is closely linked to — a disabled individual.

Employer sued

The EEOC just filed a lawsuit against New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates, P.C., accusing it of discriminating against an individual because of her association with a disabled individual — her daughter.

While the case hasn’t been decided yet, it provides a clear-cut example of what’s not allowed under the ADA — as well as what the EEOC is on the lookout for.

The EEOC is accusing the employer of terminating Melissa Yalch’s temporary job assignment and failing to hire her for a full-time permanent position as a medical assistant because, ostensibly, Yalch may need to take time off work to care for her daughter — or her daughter may in some way affect the employer/employee relationship.

Such actions, if proven to be true, amount to disability discrimination, according to the EEOC.

The agency filed suit against New Mexico Orthopaedics in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

EEOC Albuquerque Area Director Derick L. Newton had this to say about the associational discrimination protections of the ADA:

“This provision of the ADA — offering protection to persons treated adversely because of their relationships with individuals with disabilities — is a unique and integral part of our enforcement efforts.”

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