Association Provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Most people know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) protects people with disabilities in employment, housing, and several other areas. What many may not know, however, is that the ADA can protect people who are associated with people with disabilities from adverse employment actions.
Section 12112 (b)(4) states that discrimination includes “excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of a known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association.”
Oftentimes this arises when the disabled individual is a spouse or relative of the qualified individual. People have been fired because their spouse was disabled, or because their employer knew they had a disabled child and believed that meant the employee would be unreliable.
Association discrimination is not limited to family members, however. It could be a friend of the qualified individual. It includes people who volunteer to assist people with disabilities, such as a woman who was fired because she worked with people who had AIDS, and her boss believed that that volunteer work would lead to her being infected and then infecting others.
There are some limits, however. It cannot be simply that you know someone who is disabled, or said hi to them once or twice. If it’s clear, however, that you were discriminated against because you have an association or relationship with someone who has a disability, your rights have been violated.
The discrimination can take many different forms, including refusing to hire you or firing you, or any negative employment action in between. The law clearly intends to protect not only people with disabilities, but those who associate with them as well.
The process for filing a claim for discrimination based on association with a person with a disability is similar to the process that a disabled person would take. If the person has already been fired, they should contact a lawyer right away because there is a statute of limitations on discrimination. If they believe they are being discriminated against while still being employed, the person should bring it up to human resources or a manager. If the HR representative or the manager refuses to help, then the person who is being discriminated against should contact a lawyer.
Once you contact a lawyer, the lawyer will interview to discover what happened or what is happening. Once the attorney has talked through your case with you, he or she may help you put together a charge letter, which is then sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or, in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Either agency or both will review your claim and see if they can get the parties to settle. If that does not appear to be possible, after six months in the EEOC or one year in the PHRC, you can bring a lawsuit against your former or current employer for discrimination.