California Law Protects Workers Who Are Associated With a Disabled Person

California law prohibits an employer from taking an adverse action against an employee based on the employee’s association with a disabled person. See Cal. Gov’t Code § 12926(o). This is referred to as an “associational disability” claim.

To prove an associational disability claim, an employee must prove that: (1) the “disability” from which they suffer is their association with a disabled person; (2) they were otherwise qualified to do the job without reasonable accommodation; and (3) their association with a disabled person was a substantial motivating factor for the employer’s adverse employment action.

Courts recognize at least three types of disability-based associational discrimination. These are sometimes referred to as (1) “expense”; (2) “disability by association”; and (3) “distraction.” Some examples are as follows:

  • “Expense”: a spouse has a disability that is costly to the employer because the spouse is covered by the company’s health plan;
  • “Disability by association”: the employee’s homosexual companion is infected with HIV and the employer fears that the employee may also have become infected, through sexual contact with the companion;
  • “Disability by association”: one of the employee’s blood relatives has a disabling ailment that has a genetic component and the employee is likely to develop the disability as well (maybe the relative is an identical twin);
  • “Distraction”: the employee is somewhat inattentive at work because his spouse or child has a disability that requires his attention, yet not so inattentive that to perform to his employer’s satisfaction he would need an accommodation, perhaps by being allowed to work shorter hours.”

In one case, Castro–Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., 2 Cal.App.5th 1028, 1044 (2007), an employee administered daily dialysis for his son. The employee’s new supervisor suddenly changed his work schedule so that he could not be home at night to administer the dialysis. When the employee refused to work the night shift, his employer terminated him. The court found that these facts could establish an illegal termination if the employee’s association with his disabled son was a substantial motivating factor for terminating him.

In another case, Rope v. Auto–Chlor System of Washington, Inc., 220 Cal.App.4th 635, 656–657 (2013), an employee requested a leave of absence from work to donate his kidney to his sister. The employee asked his employer to approve an extended leave of absence and pay him pursuant to a newly enacted law. His employer then terminated him two days before that law went into effect. The Court found these circumstances to be a “reasonable inference” that his sister’s disability was a substantial factor motivating the employer’s decision to terminate the employee.

Associational disability claims are not limited to the examples above and courts review these claims on a fact-specific basis.

If you believe your employer has taken an adverse employment action against you because of your association with someone who has a disability please feel free to call the attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law, and to make use of our free and confidential initial intake process.  We can be reached at (510) 444-4400, or at