Can I Get Fired for Taking Time Off to Take Care of a Sick Family Member?

Many people are aware that employers cannot discriminate against an employee with a disability under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) or the Americans with Gear-and-Gavel_goldDisabilities Act (ADA).  But, what if you have a child, spouse or parent with a disability and need to take time off from work to care for him or her?  What if you need to be home in the evenings to nurse a disabled loved one back to health?  Can your employer retaliate against you for requesting an accommodation or discriminate against your because you are associated with someone with a disability?  Does your employer have to provide a reasonable accommodation under such circumstances?

Recently, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, addressed these issues in Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express (DHE).  Plaintiff, a truck driver, administered dialysis to his son on a daily basis.  For years, Plaintiff’s supervisor accommodated Plaintiff by allowing him to be home in the evening in time to administer his son’s dialysis.  Then, a new supervisor took over and changed Plaintiff’s schedule.  Plaintiff complained about his schedule, explaining that it would not allow him to care for his son in the evening.  Plaintiff offered alternative solutions, such as taking a day off or driving a different route.  Plaintiff’s new supervisor insisted Plaintiff adhere to his assigned schedule.  When Plaintiff apologized for not being able to work one shift because it interfered with his ability to care for his son, the new supervisor terminated him.

Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging causes of action including disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, FEHA retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.  Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which the trial court granted.  The appellate court reversed, finding that Plaintiff demonstrated triable issues of material fact on his causes of action for associational disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

The Court held that employers have a duty under the FEHA to provide reasonable accommodations to employees associated with disabled persons.  California Government Code section 12926(o) provides that association with a disabled person constitutes a disability.  Under the facts of the Castro-Ramirez case, the Court found that a jury could reasonably infer Plaintiff’s association with his son was a substantial motivating factor in the employer’s decision to terminate Plaintiff, and that DHE’s reason for terminating Plaintiff was pretextual.

The appellate court also found that the trial court erred in summarily adjudicating Plaintiff’s FEHA retaliation cause of action.  A plaintiff is not required to articulate that the employer’s actions or conduct violates the FEHA or constitutes discrimination.  Rather, evidence that a plaintiff complained to an employer about changing a schedule or not getting time off in response to a request for accommodation demonstrates opposition to the employer’s denial of a reasonable accommodation.

If you feel that your employer discriminated or retaliated against you due to a disability of someone you are associated with, please feel free to call Hunter Pyle Law for a free consultation at (510)-663-9240 or