This case focused on employers trying to reduce healthcare expenses. The plaintiff alleged that an employee was terminated because the employer no longer wanted to cover a child’s medical expenses. Since the defendant had more than 15 employees, it was subject to the requirements of the ADA. Disability discrimination includes “excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association.” The courts have categorized three types of ADA “association discrimination” cases:
“[The categories] can be illustrated as follows: an employee is fired (or suffers some other adverse personnel action) because (1) (‘expense’) his spouse has a disability that is costly to the employer because the spouse is covered by the company’s health plan; (2a) (‘disability by association’) the employee’s homosexual companion is infected with HIV and the employer fears that the employee might also have become infected, through sexual contact with the companion; (2b) (another example of disability by association) one of the employee’s blood relatives has a disabling ailment that has a genetic component and the employee is likely to develop the disability as well (maybe the relative is an identical twin); (3) (‘distraction’) the employee is somewhat inattentive at work because his spouse or child has a disability that requires his attention, yet not so inattentive that to perform to his employer’s satisfaction he would need an accommodation, perhaps by being allowed to work shorter hours.”
In the Trujillo case, managers knew about the cost of the child’s health care and health care expenses were included within departmental budgets. Although the defendant argued that both Mr. & Mrs. Trujillo were fired due to tardiness, the temporal proximity to the child’s illness contributed to an inference of discrimination.
Employer Lesson: Although ERISA and the ADA allow you to discriminate in levels of health care coverage based on an employee’s position, it does not allow you to discriminate against an employee because a sick relative might be covered by the policy.