California’s 2nd District Court of Appeals recently expanded the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to include people who associated with someone with a disability. While the 2nd District Court of Appeals only covers employers in Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties, the decision could have an impact on how lower courts across the state treat disability claims.
In Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, the Plaintiff had a son who required daily dialysis in the evenings. The plaintiff was the only person who could perform this treatment for his son, and for years his employer accommodated the dialysis schedule by making sure the plaintiff never worked night shifts.
When a new supervisor took over scheduling responsibilities, the supervisor refused to accommodate the plaintiff’s schedule and terminated him after he refused to switch to the night shift. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his employer, alleging that the employer had violated the FEHA by terminating his employment because of his association with a disabled family member.
The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that he had been terminated because of his son’s disability. On appeal, the appellate court found that California law, unlike federal law, did require an employer to make accommodations for an employee based on that person’s relationship with a disabled person.
Normally, a person who wants to make a claim under the FEHA must show that he or she suffered from a physical disability, was otherwise qualified to do a particular job (with or without a reasonable accommodation), and was subject to discrimination or adverse employment action because of that disability.
In reaching its decision, the 2nd District Court of Appeals noted that the language of the FEHA defined the phrase “physical disability” to include a person who is associated with an individual who has a disability. As a result, the appellate court found that the FEHA also forbids discrimination based on a person’s association with a disabled person.
Moving forward, this decision may strengthen discrimination claims again people who face adverse employment action based on their need to care for a disabled relative. Employers may need to make reasonable accommodations for a person who needs to care for a sick child, spouse, or parent. Failing to do so could result in a discrimination claim against the employer. Contact us to speak with an experienced discrimination law lawyer in Sacramento today.
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