Dismissal of ADA “Associational” Disability Discrimination Claim Affirmed

In Dolac v. County of Erie et al, 2021 WL 5267722 (2d Cir. Nov. 12, 2021), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim for “associational discrimination” asserted under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The court summarized the general law as follows:

[The ADA prohibits, among other things,] 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). To sustain an “associational discrimination” claim, a plaintiff must plausibly allege: 1) that she was qualified for the job at the time of 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. [Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.]

Here, the plaintiff pursued an associational discrimination claim under the “expense theory,” which may come into play when “an employee suffers adverse action because of his association with a disabled individual covered by the employer’s insurance, which the employer believes (rightly or wrongly) will be costly.”

Plaintiff alleges that defendants terminated her position “to save what it considered a sizeable sum of money for extended sick leave compensation for Plaintiff and health insurance payouts for Plaintiff’s terminally ill husband’s medical bills” and that the defendant “had access to her employment file” and was “aware at all times relevant to this case that Plaintiff possessed health insurance coverage that provided benefits to her terminally ill husband and due to the nature of his illness, metastatic cancer, the cost of health insurance benefits to Plaintiff’s husband was a significant expense to their [sic] employer.”

The court held, however, that “beyond these conclusory allegations, Dolac does not allege that defendants knew about her husband’s medical expenses or that they were a motivating factor in her termination” and that, without more, her proposed amendments were futile.

Share This: