The concepts of “associational discrimination” and “family responsibilities discrimination” have just met in a case arising out of Illinois.

Associational Discrimination

"Punishing someone because of who he or she associates with doesn’t pass the smell test” is a quote we used way back in March 2012 about “associational discrimination” -- discrimination, usually retaliation, based upon relationships or associations. In January 2011, we talked about a significant new Supreme Court case where an employee claimed that he was discriminated against based upon his wife's race and national origin.

Family Responsibilities Discrimination

On another subject we recently blogged about the push for a new family responsibilities discrimination law and the rights or concerns about employee-caregivers, who make up a growing population of employees. See our blogs of September 3rd and September 4th.

The New Decision

A new federal appeals court decision in a case under the ADA has brought into sharp relief the issue of whether an employer must accommodate an employee who must spend time providing care to her disabled daughter. “Associational discrimination” and “family responsibilities discrimination” are now coming together as our graying population increasingly needs care from working relatives.

An employee sued under the ADA claiming associational discrimination when St. Mark United Methodist Church terminated her based on allegedly “unfounded assumptions” concerning her association with her mentally disabled daughter. The employer claimed that her work was unsatisfactory and that she refused to work weekends. However, as the Court noted, both parties “agree that [the employee’s] unwillingness to work weekends was a contributing and possibly primary reason for her termination.”

The Court teased apart the tangle of facts and claims and came to the simple but quite important conclusion that “the crux of this case remains [the employee’s] belief that she should not be made to work on weekends when she needs to care for her daughter. Unfortunately for [her], despite the fact that the church may have placed her in a difficult situation considering her commendable commitment to care for her disabled daughter, she was not entitled to an accommodated schedule” since “the ADA does not require employers to reasonably accommodate employees who do not themselves have a disability (emphasis added”).

The Court stated that while the ADA provides that “an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee “because of the known disability of an individual with whom [the employee] is known to have a relationship or association,” nonetheless “[a]ssociational discrimination claims are unlike those otherwise falling under the ADA because employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations to non-disabled workers.”


This case illustrates the fact that (1) more and more employees are increasingly under pressure to provide care to ailing or disabled relatives while at the same time working full time; (2) caregiving employees will rapidly face marginalization, termination or the need to resign because of their family responsibilities; (3) there are no laws which protect caregiving employees or provide that an accommodation be made for their caregiving; and (4) employers will lose valuable employees if no accommodation is made for their caregiving responsibilities.