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Only employee–not his spouse–can sue for disability discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Only disabled individuals have the right to sue their employers for disability discrimination. A spouse or other family member, even if harmed by an employer’s discrimination, can’t bring his or her own claim.

Recent case: Horace and Sheila sued Horace’s former employer, the Fresno School District, alleging that it refused to accommodate Horace’s disability. The two had met with HR to discuss possible accommodations for intractable and chronic hiccups. They asked that Horace, a custodian, be allowed to wear a mask and avoid cleaning products.

Then Horace had a stroke and never returned to work. His wife tried to sue for disability discrimination, claiming she had been harmed by the lack of accommodations.

The court said Horace could sue, but she could not. A spouse, the court explained, isn’t the individual directly affected by a failure to accommodate even if she suffers financially as a result. The court said Horace could refile the suit under his own name. (Brown, et al., v. Fresno School District, No. 1:12-CV-01597, ED CA, 2012)

Final note: On the other hand, an employee who cares for a disabled spouse, child or other loved one can sue her own employer for discrimination based on her caregiver status. For example, it’s association discrimination if an employer fires an employee because she has a disabled spouse, worrying that the spouse’s condition will drive up insurance costs or result in frequent absences for the employee.

An employer, can, however, terminate a caregiving employee after she has used up available FMLA and other leave to care for her spouse.

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