Seyfarth Synopsis: The Court of Appeal, on rehearing, has superseded a 2016 decision that employers must reasonably accommodate work restrictions because of the disabilities of the employee’s associates. The superseding opinion recognizes that employers have no established duty to provide accommodations because of the disability of an employee’s associates.
Seyfarth’s One Minute Memo readers will recall that we reported, back in April 2016, on a classic case of “hard facts make bad law”. In that case, Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, the Court of Appeal creatively held that California employers must accommodate employees who do not themselves have disabilities but who simply are associated with someone who has a disability.
We are happy to update you on later proceedings in that case. The unusual result that we criticized last year is no longer even arguably the law in California. The accommodation claim, which was the focus of the prior Court of Appeal decision, was abandoned by the plaintiff after the initial decision. In the decision upon rehearing, issued August 29, 2016, the Court of Appeal observed:
[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. We acknowledge that the reasonable accommodation subdivision of section 12940 does not expressly refer to persons other than an applicant or employee. . . . We only observe that the accommodation issue is not settled and that it appears significantly intertwined with the statutory prohibition against disability discrimination . . . .
While the Court of Appeal conceded that it could not rule on a question that the plaintiff had abandoned, the Court of Appeal emphasized that there is a cause of action for associational discrimination under both the FEHA and the ADA, and held that triable issues precluded summary judgment on the discrimination and retaliation claims.
(The California Supreme Court, meanwhile, has denied Dependable’ s petition for review.)
Workplace Solution: California law remains the same as it was before the original Castro-Ramirez decision: there is no established duty for an employer to grant a reasonable accommodation to an employee who is not disabled, but who is merely associated with someone who is. It remains the case, though, that employers must not discriminate against employees on the basis that they are associated with someone who has a disability. Caution in making employment decisions relating to employees with known disabled associates thus remains highly advisable.