Disability Law Index - Employment: Discrimination based on Association


42 U.S.C. § 12112(b) - Discrimination - Construction

As used in subsection (a) of this section, the term discriminate includes -

(4) excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association;


29 C.F.R. § 1630.8 - Relationship or association with an individual with a disability.

It is unlawful for a covered entity to exclude or deny equal jobs or benefits to, or otherwise discriminate against, a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a family, business, social or other relationship or association.

Case Law:

Stansberry v. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp., __ F.3d. __ (July 6, 2011).

Dewitt v. Proctor Hospital, 517 F.3d 944 (7th Cir. 2008).

  • Hospital worker was fired by employer. There was evidence that this may have been an attempt to limit the coverage of her husband's medical expenses in treatment for prostate cancer through hospital's partially self-insured policy.

Larimer v. International Business Machines Corp., 370 F.3d 698 (7th Cir. 2004).

  • "Three types of situation are, we believe, within the intended scope of the rarely litigated (this is our first case) association section." We'll call them "expense," "disability by association," and "distraction."
  • They can be illustrated as follows: an employee suffers some adverse personnel action because
    • (1) ("expense") his spouse has a disability that is costly to the employer because the spouse is covered by the company's health plan;
    • (2a) ("disability by association") the employee's homosexual companion is infected with HIV and the employer fears that the employee may also have become infected, through sexual contact with the companion; (2b) (another example of disability by association) one of the employee's blood relatives has a disabling ailment that has a genetic component and the employee is likely to develop the disability as well (maybe the relative is an identical twin);
    • (3) ("distraction") the employee is somewhat inattentive at work because his spouse or child has a disability that requires his attention, yet not so inattentive that to perform to his employer's satisfaction he would need an accommodation, perhaps by being allowed to work shorter hours. The qualification concerning the need for an accommodation (that is, special consideration) is critical because the right to an accommodation, being limited to disabled employees, does not extend to a nondisabled associate of a disabled person.

Den Hartog v. Wasatch Academy, 129 F.3d 1076 (10th Cir. 1997).

  • The ADA does not require an employer to make any "reasonable accommodation" to the disabilities of relatives or associates of an employee who is not himself disabled. Only job applicants or employees, but not their relatives or associates, need be reasonably accommodated.
  • In order to establish a prima facie case of "association discrimination" under ADA:
    • the plaintiff was "qualified" for the job at the time of the adverse employment action
    • the plaintiff was subjected to adverse employment action;
    • the plaintiff was known by his employer at the time to have a relative or associate with a disability;
    • the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances raising a reasonable inference that the disability of the relative or associate was a determining factor in the employer's decision.
  • The ADA permits an employer to discipline or discharge a non-disabled employee whose disabled relative or associate, because of his or her disability, poses a direct threat to the employer's workplace.

Tyndall v. National Education Centers, 31 F.3d 209 (4th Cir 1994).

  • The ADA does not require an employer to restructure an employee's work schedule to enable the employee to care for a relative with a disability.