The Seventh Circuit recently examined whether an employee could assert disability discrimination based on a failure to accommodate where a non-disabled employee requested an accommodation to care for her disabled child. Magnus v. St. Mark United Methodist Church, No. 11-3767 (7th Cir. August 8, 2012). In the case, the employee sought an accommodation to take time off on weekends, when she was scheduled to work, to care for her disabled child at home. The child spent weekdays at an assisted-living facility and weekends at home. Ultimately, because of the employee’s refusal to work weekends, she was terminated from employment. The Court said that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) does not require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to non-disabled employees to care for relatives who may be disabled.
The court noted that the ADA prohibits discrimination against an employee “because of the known disability of an individual with whom [the employee] is known to have a relationship or association.” Id. at page 8. “Although an employer does not have to accommodate an employee because of her association with a disabled person, the employer cannot terminate the employee for unfounded assumptions about the need to care for a disabled person.” Id. at page 10. For example, an employer may not terminate an employee based on assumptions regarding future absences related to a child’s care. Thus, if an employer assumes that an employee or employee applicant will have to miss work or frequently leave work to care for a child and terminates or declines to hire that individual, the employer is at risk of violating the ADA.
In this case, the employer was found not to have violated the ADA. First, the court held that the employer was not obligated to provide the non-disabled employee with a reasonable accommodation. Indeed, even if the employee performed her work unsatisfactorily and the poor work performance was in part due to the distractions caused by her disabled daughter, the employer was not required to provide the employee with an accommodation to perform her job. Additionally, the court found that the employee did not present any evidence that her daughter’s disability was a determining factor in the decision to terminate her employment.
In short, despite the unfortunate position the employee may have been placed by the work schedule, the non-disabled employee was not entitled to a reasonable accommodation to take time off to care for her daughter.