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California Court of Appeals Case Extends ADA Provisions to Non-Disabled Employees

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Recently, a California court created a new duty to accommodate employees who, although not disabled themselves, are associated with a disabled person.

In a case of first impression, the California Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District held that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – which requires employers to accommodate employees with disabilities – also requires employers to accommodate employees associated with a person of disability. Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., substantially broadens the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in California, which does not contain the same requirement.

However, this may be a case of the facts making bad law in the state as opposed to a sweeping change in precedent in general.

The plaintiff was a delivery driver for defendant. As a part of his hire, he requested and was granted a schedule accommodation to allow him to be home in the evening to administer kidney dialysis for his son. This changed after three years of employment when a new supervisor scheduled him for a shift beyond his previous schedule accommodation, and then terminated the plaintiff for his refusal to work the new shift. Castro-Ramirez sued for disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, failure to engage in the interactive process, hostile work environment, and failure to prevent harassment.

The trial court granted summary judgment in defendant’s favor, but on appeal the Second Appellate court rejected the delivery company’s argument that under the FEHA it was only required to accommodate an employee who “personally experiences” a physical or mental disability, and bought into plaintiff’s argument raising “associational” disability discrimination. The court reasoned that associating with a person with disabilities is itself a disability for the purpose of FEHA and must, therefore, be accommodated.

This is a whole new world for California employers. Unless reversed on appeal in a higher court or limited in another case of impression, California employers will need to consider requests by employees for an accommodation due to their association with a person with disabilities. This can be a family, friend, or even a casual associate. Employers should review their disability leave policies to ensure that they make clear that reasonable accommodations will be considered for employees who provide care to a person with a physical or mental disability, and not just employees who are disabled themselves.

Hilary Atkins

Posted In: Legal, Management

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