Court of Appeals finds a Duty to Accommodate Employees Associated With Disabled Individuals
A California Court of Appeal held that under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), an employer has a duty to reasonably accommodate an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person. Luis Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Case Nos. B261165, B262524 (2nd App. Dist., April 6, 2016).
Dependable Highway Express (“DHE”) terminated Luis Castro-Ramirez after he refused to work an assigned shift. When applying to work, Castro-Ramirez informed DHE that he needed to be home by a certain time to administer his son’s dialysis. For approximately three years, Castro-Ramirez’s scheduling needs were accommodated by scheduling him to work earlier shifts. In March 2013, a new supervisor changed the schedule. As a result, Castro-Ramirez could no longer arrive in time to administer his son’s treatments. The supervisor denied Castro-Ramirez’s requests for earlier shifts, even though they were available. One day, the supervisor assigned Castro-Ramirez to work a shift which would have prevented him from administering dialysis altogether. The employee requested an earlier shift or to be given a day off. The supervisor told Castro-Ramirez he would be fired if he did not work the assigned shift. When Castro-Ramirez refused to work, his employment was terminated.
Most pertinently, the Court of Appeal rejected the employer’s argument that a reasonable accommodation need only be provided to an employee who personally experiences a physical or mental disability. Citing the “plain language” of FEHA, the court concluded that the statute creates a duty for employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees or applicants who are associated with disabled individuals.
This decision is the first of its kind. To date, as the Court of Appeal noted, no published opinion held that the FEHA requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee who is associated with a disabled individual. Unless the California Supreme Court reverses, this will be binding in the Second Appellate District. Moreover, depending on the Supreme Court’s decision, if DHE elects to seek a review, other California courts may follow suit. Accordingly, employers should proceed with caution when an employee or applicant requests an accommodation to attend to the needs of a disabled individual, especially when that person is a family member.
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