The California Court of Appeals has, for the first time ever, held that healthy employees without any disability — but who are “associated” with a disabled person who needs their assistance — are protected under California’s disability discrimination law. Thus, as a result of this decision, California employers are now obligated to engage in the “interactive process” with these healthy employees and to grant them reasonable accommodation to allow them to assist disabled third parties.
The case, entitled Luis Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, concerns an employee who notified his employer on the very first day of work that he had “daily obligations at home” relating to administering dialysis to his disabled son. The employee’s first supervisors were supportive and gave the employee shift times that allowed him to perform his daily duties for his son. However, three years later, after many positive performance reviews, a new supervisor was put in charge. This new supervisor assigned work shifts to the employee that prevented him from attending to his son. When the employee asked to have his old schedule back, and again explained his daily required duties for his disabled son, the supervisor refused. The employee was then fired when he refused to accept the shift times assigned by his new supervisor.
The Court in Luis Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express admitted that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) required employers to make reasonable accommodation only to employees or applicants who were themselves disabled. But California law is different, the Court ruled. Under California’s disability discrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), the term “disability” is explicitly defined to include associating with someone who has a disability. Thus, the Court concluded, when FEHA says that “employers must reasonably accommodate ‘the known…disability of an applicant or employee,’ the disabilities that employers must accommodate include the employee’s association with a physically disabled person.”
Now, even healthy California employees are protected by California’s disability discrimination law to the extent that healthy employee provides assistance to or otherwise “associates with” a known disabled person. Obviously, this ruling greatly expands employee protections in California and adds significant new burdens on employers. Therefore, this case may very well be appealed to the California Supreme Court. Until then, however, the decision in Luis Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express is the “law of the land” in the 2nd Appellate District in California, which includes Los Angeles County. Stay tuned for additional updates!
You can read the decision in Luis Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express here.