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Association discrimination covers friends, not just family

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in Hiring,Human Resources

California law and the ADA protect just about anyone who “associates” with a disabled person from discrimination. It doesn’t have to be a child, spouse or blood relative.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Act both protect those who count disabled persons as friends. Those disabled people don’t have to be family members.

Recent case: Brian Setencich applied for a job with the Red Cross and was offered the position. He was already the friend of a Red Cross employee with disabilities. Setencich claims that when the hiring managers learned he was associated with the employee, they decided not to hire him. He sued under the FEHA and the Unruh Act, claiming association discrimination.

The court rejected the Red Cross’s argument that association discrimination is limited to association with close family members. Instead, the court said that California law clearly protects applicants from discrimination based on just about any association with disabled persons, including friendships. The case now will go to trial. (Setencich v. American Red Cross, No. C 07-03688, ND CA, 2008)

Final note: The most common form of association discrimination is refusing to hire someone because he or she has a disabled family member who may use greater medical resources (and thus drive up insurance or self-insurance costs). You should not consider such costs when making a hiring decision.

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