California Employers Have Duty to Accommodate Disability of Employee’s Family Member

in-home-care-relinquishes-constraints-while-dealing-with-quadriplegia-at-home-nursing-careIn Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, the California Court of Appeal for 2nd Appellate District, which includes the Los Angeles Superior Courts, held for the first time that an employer has a duty to reasonably accommodate an applicant or employee who is related or associated with a disabled person who needs the applicant/employee’s assistance.

The facts underlying the case are interesting. Luis Castro-Ramirez was a driver for Dependable Highway Express (DHE). His son required dialysis. Before accepting DHE’s job offer, Castro- Ramirez explained that he would need to leave work early enough to go home and operate his son’s dialysis machine. Although DHE initially accommodated this request, scheduling early routes, a new supervisor refused and warned Castro-Ramirez that if he did not take a later route he would be fired. Castro-Ramirez refused and was fired.

The trial court ruled in favor of DHE, reasoning that Castro-Ramirez could not show that the termination was motivated by his association with his disabled son. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) creates a duty on the part of employers to accommodate employees who are associated with a disabled person.

At this juncture, Castro-Ramirez is only binding in the 2nd Appellate District. It is likely DHE will seek review of the decision by the California Supreme Court, which could result in a reversal. However, until such review, if it occurs, other appellate courts throughout California could find the court’s reasoning persuasive and follow it.

What Employers Should Do Given This Ruling

Disability discrimination, including claims of failure to reasonably accommodate a known or perceived disability, is a particularly thorny area for California employers. Castro-Ramirez further complicates matters. Employers must take care whenever a request is made for accommodation of a disability or medical condition. When in doubt, it is wise to seek the advice of employment law counsel.

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