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Friday, October 7, 2016

Associational Disability: Can My Employer Discriminate Against Me Because My Relative Is Disabled?

NJ State and Federal law prohibit discrimination against an employee because of the employee’s associations with a disabled person. An employer may not discriminate against you because of your association with a disabled person, or a person who is merely perceived to be disabled, if not in fact disabled. This protection applies not only to permanent and full-time employees but also to part-time and temporary workers. 

The disabled person need not be a relative of the employee; he/she could be a roommate, a friend or other associate. This protected category is known as associational disability discrimination. It applies to employees who are discriminated against because of that employee's association with a person who is disabled, or is perceived or rumored to be disabled. 

Associational disability discrimination lawsuits, although not as common as disability discrimination lawsuits, may pay out big to Plaintiffs, even when the Plaintiff is only a low wage earner and a part-time and temporary worker, as in a recent case against an orthopedic facility.  New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates, P.C. owns and operates a medical facility in Albuquerque. It will now pay $165,000 to a temporary and part-time worker to settle a lawsuit for associational disability discrimination filed by the EEOC , the agency announced September 1, 2016. 

In this case, it was charged that the orthopedics facility fired a temporary agency staff member, Melissa Yalch Valencia, and failed to hire her for full-time position because of Ms. Valencia’s association with a child with disabilities. The orthopedics facility  violated the ADA by firing Ms. Valencia, a temporary staffing agency employee, and failing to hire her for a full-time position because of her relationship with her then three-year old daughter, who had disabilities or was regarded as disabled.

The discrimination victim, Melissa Yalch Valencia said, "It should never have happened. A mother should never have to worry about losing her job because her child has a disability. I hope the lawsuit encourages moms and dads to stand up fearlessly when things like this happen. I also hope this lawsuit and this resolution encourages companies to train supervisors and employees to assure things like this don't happen in the workplace."

In New Jersey, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee with a disability under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the federal law, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) unless the extent of the disability and its nature reasonably preclude (with or without a reasonable accommodation ) the performance of the essential duties of the employment position. 

Both the LAD and the ADA have similar provisions for the definition of a "regarded as having a disability" or "perceived" disability. However the definition of "disability" under the LAD is broader than the definition under ADA.

What You Can Do

If you feel your employer is discriminating against you because of your association with someone who is disabled or is perceived to be disabled, it is important to consult with an aggressive and experienced employment attorney. If you complained about such discrimination, and your employer then retaliated against you, you may also have a claim for retaliation. If you believe you are being subjected to such unlawful workplace discrimination or retaliation, please contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Central, Western and Northern NJ to meet with clients.


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