Dependable Highway Express (DHE) hired Luis Castro-Ramirez to work as a truck driver around December 2009. At the time he was hired, Castro-Ramirez told DHE that he had a disabled son who required daily dialysis which Castro-Ramirez administered. Castro-Ramirez was the only person in his household who knew how to operate the dialysis machine. Castro-Ramirez requested the ability to end his shift early enough to get home for his son's treatments. His supervisor, Winston Bermudez, accommodated Castro-Ramirez's needs as often as he could by giving him a shift that allowed him to get home early.
In 2013, Boldomero Munoz-Guillen became Castro-Ramirez's new supervisor and Bermudez became Munoz-Guillen's supervisor. At the time Munoz-Guillen became Castro-Ramirez's supervisor, Bermudez told Munoz-Guillen that Castro-Ramirez had special needs relating to his son and needed to leave early. Bermudez asked Munoz-Guillen to work with Castro-Ramirez. Bermudez never reported Castro-Ramirez's special needs to human resources.
In March 2013, Munoz-Guillen changed Castro-Ramirez's work schedule such that he would no longer be able to be home early enough to administer his son's dialysis. Castro-Ramirez complained to Bermudez that Munoz-Guillen changed his schedule and Bermudez told Munoz-Guillen about Castro-Ramirez's complaint. Munoz-Guillen said he would "work on that."
On April 15, 2013, a DHE customer emailed Bermudez asking for Castro-Ramirez to do the customer's deliveries at 7:00 a.m. However, when Castro-Ramirez asked Munoz-Guillen about the customer, Munoz-Guillen said the customer did not want Castro-Ramirez making their deliveries.
Approximately one week later, on April 22, 2013, Munoz-Guillen assigned Castro-Ramirez a shift beginning at 11:55 a.m. and ending at 9:04 p.m. Castro-Ramirez accepted the shift that day since he was able to be home in time for that day's dialysis. The following day, Munoz-Guillen assigned Castro-Ramirez a shift beginning at 12:00 p.m. that would not enable Castro-Ramirez to be home in time to administer the dialysis. Castro-Ramirez requested another route, or to take the day off, but Munoz-Guillen told Castro-Ramirez that he would be fired if he did not drive the route. Castro-Ramirez refused to work the shift and Munoz-Guillen terminated him. On the day Castro-Ramirez was terminated, Munoz-Guillen scheduled at least eight other drivers to start shifts well before noon.
The trial court granted DHE's motion for summary judgment and rejected Castro-Ramirez's claim that DHE violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) by terminating him for requesting an accommodation to care for his disabled son. Castro-Ramirez appealed.
The Court went on to analyze the seldom-litigated claim of "associational disability" discrimination under FEHA. FEHA makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against a person because they have a physical disability, which includes a perception that the person is associated with someone who has a physical disability. Accordingly, when FEHA forbids discrimination based on a disability, it also forbids discrimination based on a person's association with another who has a disability.
DHE argued that this was largely a case involving reasonable accommodations, not discrimination, and that FEHA does not require employers to make accommodations for associates of the disabled, rather only employees who are themselves disabled are entitled to reasonable accommodation. The Court of Appeal held that no 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. In a case of initial impression, the Court of Appeal held that such a duty does exist under FEHA.
The Court noted that FEHA provides different causes of action for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate. In rejecting the argument that the person making the claim must actually have a disability, the Court referenced the definition of "physical disability" under FEHA, which includes a "perception" that a person "is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have," a physical disability. In other words, an association with a disabled person can itself qualify an individual for protection under FEHA.
The Court determined that a jury could reasonably infer that Castro-Ramirez's disabled son was a substantial motivating factor in Munoz-Guillen's decision to terminate him. With regard to Castro-Ramirez's retaliation claim, the Court noted that the FEHA amendments effective January 1, 2016, make it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against a person for requesting a reasonable accommodation, whether or not the employer provides the accommodation. Therefore, the Court found, one could reasonably determine that Castro-Ramirez's complaints about his schedule change contributed opposition to the denial of a reasonable accommodation. The Court reversed the trial court's decision.
As a result of Castro-Ramirez, it is now clear that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are associated with a disabled person or the employer risks a disability discrimination claim, even if the employee is not disabled. The Court distinguished associational disability discrimination under FEHA from those brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since the ADA does not define disability to include association with a disabled person whereas FEHA does. The Court found that distinguishing characteristic to be key because ADA requires reasonable accommodations only for applicants or employees who themselves have disabilities.
Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 180