Employees Associated With A Disabled Person Are Entitled To Reasonable Accomodations
In an April 4, 2016 decision, Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., a California appeals court ruled that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are “associated with” a disabled person. The employee who brought the case needed schedule accommodations to administer his son’s kidney dialysis, was entitled reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing and Employment Act (“FEHA”).
The Court’s Decision
Luis Castro-Ramirez was employed as a truck driver by Dependable Highway Express (“DHS”). When he started work in 2010, he told DHE he had a disabled son who required dialysis on a daily basis and that he was responsible for administering his son’s dialysis. He requested work schedule accommodations that his supervisor initially granted, permitting him to attend to his son in the evening. In 2013, a new supervisor changed his work schedule. Plaintiff complained to the new supervisor about the change in schedule. Castro-Ramirez objected and explained that the shift would not allow him to be home early enough in the evening to tend to his disabled son. The supervisor spoke to a manager and then terminated plaintiff’s employment.
Castro-Ramirez sued DHS for for disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, and retaliation under the FEHA. The court ruled that Castro-Ramirez was entitled to reasonable accommodations allowing him to administer dialysis to his son because he met the FEHA’s definition of “physical disability.” The court focused on language in the FEHA providing that “‘physical disability’ . . . includes a perception . . . that the person is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have” a physical disability.
The Bottom Line
The decision is important for two reasons: (1) it extends accommodation rights to employees who are merely associated with a disabled person and (2) it interprets the FEHA, which applies to any employer with more than 5 employees.
Employees who have family members who are disabled and require their care are entitled to reasonable accommodations even if the employer is not subject to the FMLA or CFRA because it has fewer than 50 employees or because the employee has not worked for more than 12 months. Whether the rule will be extended beyond family members remains to be seen. In theory at least, Castro-Ramirez could apply to emplyees associated with a disabled friend, roommate, significant other etc.