Employers beware: Just because a worker isn’t disabled doesn’t mean she can’t hit you with an ADA lawsuit.
Though rarer than typical ADA compliants, companies can come under fire for “associational ADA bias.”
That’s when a worker claims his or her employer discrimination against him or her for the employee’s relationship to a disabled person.
That’s what happened to 878 Education LLC, a technical college in New York, after it fired a worker for absenteeism. Here’s what happened at the school, and what it can teach you about avoiding associational bias complaints.
Constantly absent Elizabeth Manon, a receptionist at the school, had an infant daughter who often experienced medical issues due to an asthma-like condition called Reactive Airway Disease. As a result, Manon often missed work to look after her daughter.
Manon worked for 878 for six months, during which she left early 54 times, came in late 27 times and was absent for 17 days, total. Manon had told her manager, Alphonso Garcia about her daughter’s condition, and did her best to give advanced notice of when she would be out.
Despite her frequent absenteeism, Garcia only reprimanded her once.
He said what?
Then, without warning, Manon arrived one day to find she was fired. During the termination meeting, Manon asked what she could do to fix things and keep her job. But Garcia told her he needed someone “who does not have kids who can be at the front desk at all times.”
He also asked her, “How can you guarantee me that two weeks from now your daughter is not going to be sick again … So, what is it, your job or your daughter?”
Court weighs in
Manon then sued for associational ADA bias, saying that 878 fired her because of her daughter’s illness. The school fought to get the suit thrown out, pointing out that Manon’s absenteeism was the real reason she was terminated.
But a judge decided the case should go to trial for two reasons:
- Manon’s frequent communication about her daughter’s condition could also lead a jury to conclude that Garcia knew about her disability when he fired Manon.
- Garcia’s comments during the meeting could be seen as a “smoking gun” that Manon’s termination was triggered by her daughter’s disability.
What managers need to know
Win or lose, the lawsuit will be a financial blow to 878. But the case serves as a good reminder to managers that work issues related to an employee’s disabled relative have to be dealt with using as much care as a typical ADA case.
Cite: Manon v. 878 Education LLC.