Employers know they need to comply with the ADA when a worker is disabled. But not everyone knows that also can hold true when an employee’s relative is disabled.
Case in point: A technical school recently learned about associational ADA bias the hard way â with a lawsuit.
‘Your daughter or your job’
Elizabeth Manon was a receptionist at 878 Education LLC, also known as the Globe Institute of Technology. Manon also had an infant daughter who often experienced medical issues due to an asthma-like condition called Reactive Airway Disease.
That meant Manon often came late, left early or missed whole days of work to attend to her daughter. Over the six months she worked for 878, Manon left early 54 times, came late 27 times and was absent for 17 days, total.
Manon did her best to give notice of when she would be absent to her manager, Alphonso Garcia.
Garcia knew about her daughter’s condition, and despite Manon’s pattern of absenteeism, only reprimanded her once for being late.
But finally enough was enough. Garcia fired Manon after she returned from unexpectedly being out several days to care for her daughter.
During the termination meeting, Garcia told her he needed someone “who does not have kids who can be at the front desk at all times.” He also asked her, “How can you guarantee me that two weeks from now your daughter is not going to be sick again … So, what is it, your job or your daughter?”
‘Smoking gun’ comments
Manon then sued for associational ADA bias, claiming she was fired because of caring for her disabled daughter.
The company tried to get the case thrown out on summary judgement. It claimed that Manon’s absenteeism was the main reason for her termination.
But a judge ruled the case should go to trial for two reasons:
- A jury could reasonably believe the managerâs comments were the “smoking gun” showing that Manon was indeed fired because of her daughter’s illness.
- Manon’s frequent communication about her daughter’s condition could also lead a jury to conclude that Garcia knew about her disability when he fired Manon.
Plus, despite claiming absenteeism as the main reason for terminating her, the court noted there was no evidence to show that anyone had discussed these performance issues with her other than one passing warning about being late.
Now, 878 is facing a costly lawsuit or settlement.
But there are some good lessons for other employers that come out of this case.
The school could have saved itself a lot of trouble by taking to time to address Manon’s absences earlier on. That could have prompted a more thorough conversation about limitations due to her daughter’s disease, and possible accommodations to fix the issue.
It’s an important reminder to other employers that they may have to approach work issues related to an employee’s disabled relative with the same tact and sensitivity as a typical ADA case.
The case is Manon v. 878 Education LLC.
For more HR News, please visit: Case illustrates how to get yourself sued for âassociational ADA biasâ
Source: News from HR Morning