The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts held, in Ayanna v. Dechert LLP, that Chapter 151B does not provide a cause of action for associational discrimination. In 2006, Ariel Ayanna, a male attorney, began working as an associate for the law firm Dechert LLP. After a successful first year, Ayanna took four weeks of paternity leave along with his entitlement under Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in order to care for his mentally-ill wife and their two children. Upon returning to work, Ayanna continued to care for his wife and serve as the primary caretaker of his children. In December 2008, Dechert terminated Ayanna's employment.
In response, Ayanna filed a charge of discrimination with the MCAD and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He later removed the case to the District Court. Ayanna alleged violations of the FMLA and both gender and handicap discrimination under Chapter 151B, premised, in part, on the theory that Dechert terminated his employment for spending too much time away from the office to tend to his mentally-ill wife and his children. Dechert moved to dismiss Ayanna's handicap discrimination claim. The District Court stated, "The dispositive issue for purposes of defendant's motion to dismiss is whether an admittedly non-handicapped employee has standing … to bring an 'associational' claim, that is, a claim alleging that he was subject to adverse employment action because of his association with a handicapped person."
The District Court granted Dechert's motion to dismiss, holding that Chapter 151B does not provide for an associational discrimination cause of action. The Court followed the only Massachusetts decision to address this issue directly, Brelin-Penny v. Encore Images, No. 08-2244-B, 2010 WL 2636822, at *6 (Mass. Super. Ct. June 1, 2010), and held that since the Legislature had not included a protected category for "associated persons" in Chapter 151B, neither the MCAD nor the court could add such a category. The Court also criticized the MCAD, which has allowed associational discrimination claims under Chapter 151B. "The MCAD's construction aggrandizes the statute's plain language and creates a new class of protected persons not contemplated by the statute. If there is to be a cause of action for 'associational' discrimination, it ought to emanate from the Massachusetts legislature."
Although this decision is not binding authority, it will aid employers in arguing that Chapter 151B does not provide standing for employees to bring an associational discrimination claim. Employers, however, must also be aware that they may still be found liable for associational discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which expressly allows for such claims.