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Employees may now have a claim against an employer that discriminates an employee because of his or her association with a disabled person.

In a recent case, when an employee was hired, he informed the employer that he planned to donate a kidney to his physically disabled sister. When the employee learned that the Donation Protection Act (DPA) would take effect on January 1, 2011, he requested paid leave to do so. The employee received satisfactory performance reviews and posed no disciplinary problems. Just 2 days before the DPA became effective, the employee was terminated for poor performance. The employee sued the employer for discrimination on the basis of his association with his physically disabled sister. The trial court dismissed the case but the appellate court upheld the associational claim.

As the Court of Appeals noted, associational discrimination has been the subject of very little litigation. The 7th Circuit identified 3 types of associational discrimination:

1. Expense– for example, when an employee is fired because his spouse has a disability and is covered by the company’s health plan.

2. Disability by Association– for example, when an employee’s homosexual companion has HIV and the employer fears that the employee also has been infected.

3. Distraction– for example, when the employee is somewhat inattentive at work because his child has a disability that requires his attention.

PRACTICAL TIP: An employer that discriminates against an employee because of his or her association with a disabled person is liable even if the motivation is purely monetary.

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