A woman claiming she was fired because she had a disabled child is the latest ADA issue to test the courts.
Eunice Magnus was hired as one of two secretaries at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Chicago.
Magnus, who had a disabled daughter who lived in an assisted-living facility, asked for weekends off — she was allowed to take her disabled daughter home on Saturdays and Sundays. The church agreed and scheduled the other secretary to work weekends.
But not long after, the other secretary complained and asked that the two secretaries alternate weekend work instead. The church spoke with Magnus on at least four separate occasions about scheduling changes, but Magnus refused each time, citing her daughter as the reason.
Several months later, a reverend at the church had to speak to Magnus about her unsatisfactory job performance. Magnus claimed that she was sometimes distracted at work because of her daughter’s disability — she often took calls from the assisted-living facility to resolve any issues regarding her daughter.
Magnus’ performance failed to improve, and the church met to discuss firing her. The day before they planned to fire her, Magnus was an hour late to work because she had a medical situation concerning her daughter. The church went ahead with its termination the next day.
No accommodation necessary
Magnus turned around and sued, claiming she was fired because she was associated with or related to a disabled person. She pointed to her termination the day after she showed up late due to her disabled daughter and the pressure to work weekends as evidence of the church’s discrimination.
The court acknowledged that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against a “qualified individual” because of his or her “relationship or association” with a disabled person.
But in the end, the court ruled in favor of the church. Church officials had already made the decision to fire Magnus before she showed up late due to medical issues with her daughter.
The court added that what Magnus seemed to want was for the church to accommodate her by allowing her not to work weekends.
The ADA, however, doesn’t require companies to accommodate non-disabled employees — even if they have a relationship or association with a disabled person.
And the church actually went above and beyond what was necessary — it tried to devise a scheduling system that would work for both secretaries and that would allow Magnus to have some weekends off.