Associational disability discrimination revisited

Whether an employee can pursue a claim based on the employer failing to provide an accommodation to care for a disabled relative is undecided again.

In an April 4, 2016 decision (Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 180), the Second District Court of Appeal concluded that California law creates a duty for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are associated with a disabled person. On April 27, 2016, the court agreed to rehear the matter, making the decision no longer available as precedent.

On rehearing last month in Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 1028, the appellate court noted that Mr. Castro-Ramirez had abandoned his reasonable accommodation claim. Consequently, the court determined that it did not need to decide whether employers have a duty to reasonably accommodate employees who associate with a disabled person.

At the same time, the court in Castro-Ramirez found that Mr. Castro-Ramirez’s abandonment of his failure to accommodate claim did not prevent him from pursuing his claim that he suffered discrimination based on associational disability. As a result, the issue before the court was now whether there was sufficient evidence that discrimination motivated a supervisor’s refusal to honor Mr. Castro-Ramirez’s scheduling request to care for his son and termination of Mr. Castro-Ramirez.

The appellate court noted that a claim for associational disability discrimination has been recognized, although it is a seldom litigated. It also determined that California, and not federal, law provides the framework for analyzing such claims. That is because the federal law, although recognizing associational disability discrimination, uses language that is structurally different than California law.

Using the California standard, the Second District determined that a reasonable inference of the facts was that the supervisor, as the person responsible for scheduling the drivers, wanted to avoid the inconvenience and distraction Mr. Castro-Ramirez’s need to care for his disabled son posed to him. Thus, the supervisor engineered a situation in which Mr. Castro-Ramirez would refuse to work the shift, giving him reason to terminate Mr. Castro-Ramirez.

The appellate court also concluded that Mr. Castro-Ramirez presented enough facts for his retaliation claim. The court decided that a jury could reasonably find that Mr. Castro-Ramirez’s repeated complaints to his supervisors about the change in his scheduling, when both knew that he needed earlier hours to administer dialysis to his son, constituted opposition to the denial of an accommodation in his schedule. Tied as the complaints were to his son’s disability, the jury also could find that the supervisor had reason to know that Mr. Castro-Ramirez believed the denial of an accommodated schedule to care for his son was unlawful.

Posted by deanroyerlaw