On April 4, 2016, the California Court of Appeal in Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., 246 Cal. App. 4th 180 (2016) held that under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), employers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee who is associated with, and provides care to, a disabled person.
The case involved Luis Castro-Ramirez (“Castro-Ramirez”) who had a son with a disability that required daily dialysis treatments. The court held that Castro-Ramirez’s suit under FEHA for disability discrimination and retaliation could proceed after he alleged that his employer refused to accommodate his request to work an earlier shift in order to be home to administer dialysis to his son.
Castro-Ramirez worked as a delivery driver for Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (“DHE”). For many years Castro-Ramirez’s supervisor at DHE would schedule his shifts early in the day so he could be home in time to administer dialysis to his son.
Eventually, Castro-Ramirez’s supervisor changed and the new supervisor was informed of Castro-Ramirez’s requests to work early shifts and the reason why. However, the new supervisor was not as accommodating to Castro-Ramirez’s requests, and scheduled him to work a late shift that would prevent him from being home in time administer the dialysis. Castro-Ramirez refused to work the late shift, and was terminated.
He filed suit under FEHA, claiming that his termination was discriminatory based on the disability of his son, and retaliation for asserting his right to an accommodation. The trial court granted summary judgment for DHE and Castro-Ramirez appealed.
Associational Disability
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and ruled that Castro-Ramirez’s case could proceed under his associational disability claim. The Court noted that FEHA provides a cause of action for associational disability discrimination. This allows an employee to recover damages if an employer, because of the disability of any person, discharges the employee or discriminates against the employee in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
The Court held that “when FEHA forbids discrimination based on a disability, it also forbids discrimination based on a person’s association with another who has a disability.” Accordingly, the Court held that FEHA imposes a duty on employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee who is associated with a disabled person.
DHE argued that because the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) does not recognize associational disabilities, Castro-Ramirez cannot prevail on his claims. The Court rejected this argument, finding that FEHA provides broader protections than the ADA, and that Castro-Ramirez was entitled to demonstrate that he could perform his job with a reasonable accommodation such as a modified work schedule. Summary judgment was therefore improper on Castro-Ramirez’s discrimination claim because a jury could reasonably infer that Castro-Ramirez’s termination was motivated by his association with his disabled son.
Summary judgment was also improper with respect to Castro-Ramirez’s retaliation claim because his assertion of his right to a modified schedule after being denied the earlier shift, demonstrated his opposition to a practice forbidden by FEHA, which constitutes protected activity.
Employees have legal authority to assert their right to workplace accommodations based on their association with someone who has a disability. Most agencies have long been aware of the need to provide a reasonable accommodation for those with a disability. It is necessary to engage that person in an interactive discussion to determine if he/she is able to perform all the essential functions of his/her job with that accommodation.
It must now be recognized that the same attempt to provide a reasonable accommodation exists if the employee has an association with a person with a disability, as well. As such, care should be taken to recognize this category of disability when making employment decisions that may affect the employee’s ability to care for a disabled person.
As with all legal issues, it is imperative that you confer with and receive advice and guidance from your agency’s designated legal counsel.
As always, should you have any questions or wish to discuss the case in more detail, please feel free to contact Keith F. Collins at (714) 446-1400, or by email at kfc@jones-mayer.com.
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