A recent case out of Texas demonstrates that if you have a disabled individual in your immediate family, an employer may not base his or her employment decisions on your association with the family member. In EEOC v. DynMcDermott Petroleum Operations Company, an employee worked for DynMcDermott (DM) as a planner and scheduler. He was laid off in 2003, but was later encouraged to reapply in 2007 after his wife developed terminal cancer. He applied, and the supervisor, Ray Wood, identified the former employee as the best qualified candidate. However, the site director, Tim Lewis, believed that the former employee should not be rehired because of his wife’s cancer, which would require him to spend time at home, and because he believed DM had too many older employees already. At the time the former employee was 56.
The site director then sent an email to the former employee explaining that even though others had wanted to hire him, he could not be hired because of his age, health problems, wife’s cancer, and former attendance problems. Wood told Lewis that the actions were illegal; Lewis disciplined Wood for insubordination as a result. But Wood nevertheless scheduled an interview with the former employee, who was allegedly the only qualified applicant. Nevertheless, another applicant, who was 34 years old was also interviewed and received the job offer.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission then brought a lawsuit on the former employee’s behalf, alleging the DM had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. During the lawsuit the site director admitted that when the employee worked for DM he had not had attendance problems.
DM first won the case at the district court, which based its ruling on the fact that Wood made the actual hiring, rather than Lewis. However, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, requiring the case to go to a jury because as Wood’s supervisor, Lewis exercised a significant amount of influence over Wood. The 5th Circuit believed that it was enough that Lewis mentioned the former employee’s disabled wife and age as factors in the decision.
This case demonstrates that one does not need to be disabled in order to qualify for protection under ADA. Association with a disabled person is enough to qualify for protection. To learn more about your rights under disability discrimination law call the California employment attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP at (951) 213-4786. Schedule a free consultation today.