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The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio) recently came down with an interesting decision highlighting a fine-line between a lawful and unlawful termination of an employee complaining of disability discrimination for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.

In Adams v. Valega’s Professional Home Cleaning, the plaintiff employee was fired by the company after her husband was diagnosed with cancer a little more than a year after she started working with the company. Despite being with the company for over one year, the employee could not bring a claim under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) because the company was deemed to be too small (did not have over 50 employees within the required geographic area).

As such, the employee was forced to bring her claim under the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Specifically, the employee claimed that her employer wrongfully terminated her in violation of the ADA based on its failure to accommodate her in caring for her husband’s cancer. The Sixth Circuit disagreed with the employee and held that the employer’s actions were lawful.

In doing so, the Court held that ADA’s language protecting employees from discrimination based on the “known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association” did not apply in this case. Rather, the issue here was whether the employer was required, under the ADA, to provide an accommodation to a non-disabled employee. The Court answered in the negative.

So how can the Court’s holding be reconciled with the ADA’s language? Well, it really depends on the specific facts of the case. The Adams decision tells us that an employee may be fired under a neutral attendance/tardiness policy even if the reason for the absence/tardiness is to care for a disabled family member. This is okay because the employer’s actions do not directly create the inference that the employer is terminating the employee based upon their association to a disabled individual.

Conversely, it would be a violation of the ADA if the employer terminated (or refused to hire) an employee based on their relationship or association with a disabled individual. An example of this would include an employer who refuses to hire a qualified applicant who discloses that his or her spouse has a disability because the employer believes that the applicant will have to miss too much work to care for their loved one.

 Upon first glance, the two scenarios presented above may not seem all that different, if at all. In fact, your situation may fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless, if an employee feels that he or she has been discriminated against based upon a disability or failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, contact an attorney and learn more about your rights.

If you even think that your employment rights have been violated or that you might need an employment lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 271-3742. The Spitz Law Firm is dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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