Association Discrimination Definition
Association discrimination means employment-related prejudice against employees, on the basis of their associations with people who have disabilities or disabling illnesses. It's also referred to as discrimination by association.
Although the term discrimination by association originated on the basis of disabilities, it might also apply on the basis of national origin, race, color or religion.
Association Discrimination Law
Association discrimination is outlawed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a Federal law that prohibits employment discrimination against disabled employees on the basis of their disabilities.
Disability discrimination by association is prohibited under the ADA, because the law includes an "association" provision. It makes it unlawful for employers to take adverse employment actions against employees, solely on the basis of their associations with disabled people.
The provision covers all types of employee associations with disabled individuals, not just family relationships with disabled relatives. Additionally, it protects employees who associate with disabled individuals whether or not the employees have disabilities themselves.
Association Discrimination Examples
Listed below are examples of adverse employer actions that might constitute association discrimination under the ADA.
- Declining to hire a qualified job applicant, solely because the applicant might miss work from caring for his or her disabled child
- Firing a qualified employee, solely because of an unfounded fear that the employee might spread HIV from volunteering to help AIDS-disabled patients outside of work hours
- Revoking an employee's health-insurance benefits to which all employees are equally entitled by policy, solely because the employee's spouse was stricken by a potentially-costly, disabling illness
Association Discrimination Legal Recourse
If you reasonably believe that you've been a victim of association discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, then you may file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In fact, you must first file a charge with the EEOC (or state equivalent) before filing a private lawsuit, if you have a mind to. (A lawsuit might reward better than an EEOC action.)
If you need help filing your association discrimination charge, subsequent lawsuit or both, consult a lawyer. (Lawyers often take winnable discrimination cases on contingency.) But, whether you first consult a lawyer or file a charge with the EEOC, don't wait too long; a relatively short statute of limitations applies.
Your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you for filing an association discrimination charge or a subsequent lawsuit. Your employer is also prohibited from retaliating against you and your witnesses for participating in related proceedings.
For more information about association discrimination along with additional examples, see "Questions and Answers About the Association Provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act" from the EEOC. See also the related article "Family Responsibility Discrimination" from EmployeeIssues.com.