Court Explains 2d Circuit Standard for “Associational Discrimination” Under the ADA

Among the different types of discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act is so-called “associational discrimination.” Specifically, the ADA, inter alia, prohibits an employer from

excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4).

A recent decision, Macropoulos v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 2018 WL 1508564 (S.D.N.Y., 2018), explains the legal requirements for setting forth such a claim:

In the Second Circuit, to state an “associational discrimination” claim, a plaintiff must make out a prima facie case by establishing: “1) that she was qualified for the job at the time of an adverse employment action; 2) that she was subjected to adverse employment action; 3) that she was known at the time to have a relative or associate with a disability; and 4) that the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances raising a reasonable inference that the disability of the relative or associate was a determining factor in the employer’s decision.” Graziadio v. Culinary Inst. of Am., 817 F.3d 415, 432 (2d Cir. 2016). Courts then apply the familiar McDonnell Douglas framework, in which “a plaintiff must establish a prima facie violation, which shifts the burden to the defendant to advance a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions, at which point the final burden is on the plaintiff to show that the defendant’s proffered reason is pretextual.”

In this case, plaintiff asserted that her mother’s disability was a determining factor in her termination. While plaintiff met her “minimal” burden of making out a prima facie case, the court held that she did not demonstrate pretext, and therefore granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.