Care For A Disabled Family Member

Disabled Family

Employers May Need to Accommodate Employee’s Need To Care For A Disabled Family Member

By: Grace LeBlanc and Lauren Grochow

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers to accommodate employees who have a physical or mental disability. The FEHA prohibits workplace discrimination against individuals with a disability, and it also prohibits discrimination against employees based on an employee’s association with someone who has a disability. In recent years, courts have discussed the link between the FEHA’s reasonable accommodation requirement and its prohibition against “associational disability discrimination.” 

In Castro-Ramirez, Luis Castro-Ramirez, the plaintiff, was a driver for Dependable Highway Express (DHE), the defendant. When Castro-Ramirez was hired, he made a point to tell DHE that his son had a disability that required Castro-Ramirez to administer dialysis to his son daily. DHE initially accommodated Castro-Ramirez’s schedule to allow him to care for his son; however, three years into his employment, a new supervisor changed Castro-Ramirez’s schedule to where he could no longer provide the necessary care to his son. When Castro-Ramirez told his supervisor that he could not work a later shift because of his son’s disability, he was fired. Castro-Ramirez sued DHE alleging disability discrimination because DHE fired him after he could not work shifts incompatible with Castro-Ramirez’s ability to care for his disabled son. 

Because the issue of accommodation was not before the court on appeal, the court did not rule whether an employee can make a claim for failure to accommodate based on the disability of someone associated with the employee. The court, however, ruled that an employee may validly claim disability discrimination against an employer based on the disability of someone associated with the employee. The court also implied that a claim for failure to accommodate based on an associated person’s disability may be possible because failure to accommodate and disability discrimination claims are “significantly intertwined.”

In Castro v. Classy, the court held that an employee can in fact make a claim against an employer that failed to accommodate the employee based on the disability of an associated person. Brittany Castro, the plaintiff, was a sales representative for Classy, Inc. (Classy), the defendant, and sued Classy when her supervisors refused to let her work from home to care for her son, who was disabled because of a genetic mutation. When Castro communicated to Classy’s human resources department her need to work from home due to her son’s disability, Classy told Castro that she could either take severance pay and leave the company or return to work full-time in person. Castro could not agree to any of these options and stopped working for Classy. 

The court reasoned that the FEHA’s prohibitions against disability discrimination and failure to accommodate both apply a broad definition of disability that includes the disability of an associated person. Classy argued that the FEHA does not require an employer to accommodate an employee “on the basis of a family member’s disability.” The court rejected this argument and found that Castro’s claim that Classy failed to accommodate her for her son’s disability could proceed. 

These recent cases indicate that courts may hold employers accountable for engaging in an interactive process and accommodating their employees when the employees are responsible for taking care of a disabled immediate family member. However, every situation is unique and this article is not legal advice. If you want legal advice or want to know if you have suffered a violation of the FEHA, contact our office.

1 Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(m)(1).
2 Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., 207 Cal. Rptr. 3d 120, 127
3 See id. at 124; Castro v. Classy, Inc., No. 3:19-cv-02246-H-BGS, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35556 (S.D.
Cal. 2020).
4 Castro-Ramirez, 207 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 124.
5 Id.
6 Id.
7 Id. at 126.
8 Id. at 128.
9 Id. at 129.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Castro v. Classy, Inc., No. 3:19-cv-02246-H-BGS, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35556 1, 12-13 (S.D. Cal.
13 Id. at 4.
14 Id. at 4-5.
15 Id. at 5.
16 Id. at 13.
17 Id. at 10.
18 Id. at 14.

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