The California case, Rope v. Auto-Chlor System reinforces the futility of an employer trying to terminate an employee so as to avoid liability. Plaintiff Scott Rope informed his employer at the time of his hire that he planned to donate a kidney to his physically disabled sister. He had requested to be given leave to do so. He later requested that leave be extended and paid under newly enacted Donations Protection Act, which was to take effect January 1, 2011. Rope was fired two days before the DPA came effective; with Auto-Chlor clearly hoping to avoid the 30-day payment obligation. The court agreed that the employer could not be held liable under a law that had not yet taken effect. However, it added that, under the circumstances, Rope had a potential claim, because the disability of his relative was a substantial factor motivating the employer’s decision, otherwise known as “associative discrimination.”
The court cautioned:
“Our holding should not be interpreted as a siren song for plaintiffs who, fearing termination, endeavor to prepare spurious cases by talking up their relationship at work to a person with a disability; such relationships do not, by themselves, give rise to a claim of discrimination. An employer who discriminates against an employee because of the latter’s association with a disabled person is liable even if the motivation is purely monetary. But if the disability plays no role in the employer’s decision, there is no disability discrimination.”
The case was sent back to the lower court to determine whether the plaintiff’s disability or that of his sister played any role in the employer’s decision. If it was purely an economic choice, there was no disability discrimination. (The court indicated that Rope himself did not have a disability as the result of donating a kidney, nor did the company act as if he had one).