Non-disabled employees in California who are associated with a disabled person can be entitled to reasonable accommodations from their employers, a California court recently ruled.
Overturning the decision of a lower court, this ruling issued by California Court of Appeals, Second District, effectively clarifies employers’ duties to provide reasonable accommodations under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Background on the Case
The case at the center of this decision, Luis Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express (Case Nos. B261165 and B262524), involved allegations that an employer had wrongly terminated a worker who had requested scheduling accommodations to take care of his disabled son.
According to court documents, the plaintiff, who is not disabled himself, had a son with disabilities that required daily dialysis. As the only person able to administer these treatments to his son every evening, the plaintiff had coordinated with his employer, Dependable Highway Express (DHE), to have a schedule that would accommodate this need.
DHE previous supervisors reportedly accommodated the plaintiff’s scheduling request for years. When, however, a new supervisor was hired, he reportedly tried to force the plaintiff to work a shift that would prevent him from being able to administer dialysis to his son. After refusing to work that shift, the plaintiff was fired by his supervisor.
The plaintiff proceeded to file a lawsuit against DHE, alleging that the company had engaged in disability discrimination and violated his rights under the FEHA. Although the trial court = ruled in favor of DHE, the Appeals Court ultimately ruled that the FEHA does cover associational disability claims and that, therefore, California employers can be required to provide reasonable accommodations to workers associated with disabled people.
Specifically, the Appellate Court explained in its decision that, although “[n]o published California case has determined whether employers have a duty under FEHA to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person,…[a]n association with a physically disabled person is itself a disability under FEHA.”
As part of this ruling, the Appellate Court did note that this requirement is a departure from federal law (i.e., the Americans with Disabilities Act).
Potential Impacts of the Ruling
The groundbreaking ruling in this case has the potential to effectively extend the protections provided by the FEHA to California workers, particularly those who have disabled loved ones. This may mean that California employers may need to be more careful when reviewing accommodation requests and considering the alternatives – even when those requests are made by non-disabled workers.
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