Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can my boss fire me if I miss work to care for my disabled child? Are there legal protections from my employer discriminating against me because I have to occasionally care for a disabled family member? How does Ohio law protect against disability discrimination? Can my family members disability be grounds for termination?
In a case decided by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on March 4, 2015, the plaintiff employee in Manon v. 878 Education, LLC was wrongfully terminated for missing work to care for her infant daughter who suffered from Reactive Airway Disease.
Initially, it is important to recognize that because of her shorter tenure with the employer, this employee did not qualify for time off protection under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). So this is not an employment lawyers‘ blog about your rights under the FMLA. (for FMLA attorney blogs, read Do I qualify for FMLA?; Can I Sue If I Was Fired For Requesting FMLA Leave? I Need A Lawyer!; Can I Sue My Boss For Interfering With My FMLA Leave? I Need An Attorney!).
Next important fact of this disability discrimination case is that the employee, Elizabeth Manon, is not disabled. While you probably know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prevents employers from discriminating against disabled workers, the ADA also makes it illegal for your boss, manager, or supervisor to discriminate, harass, or fire you because you are associated or related to a disabled individual. Here, the district court explained:
In order to establish a claim for “associational discrimination” under the ADA, Plaintiff must demonstrate that she was discriminated against by her employer because of her association with a disabled person. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). Absent direct evidence of discriminatory animus, courts in this Circuit apply the three-step, burden-shifting framework established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03 (1973), to actions brought under the ADA. See Greenway v. Buffalo Hilton Hotel, 143 F.3d 47, 52 (2d Cir. 1998).
Manon was employed by the employer-defendant as a school receptionist. On the particular day in question, when the Manon returned to work following a two-day absence to care for her daughter, who had been hospitalized with breathing issues, her supervisor told her that her employment was being terminated. The trial court reviewed the evidence as follows:
Here, Garcia told Plaintiff at the November 16, 2012 meeting — the day of her return to work following an absence to care for her daughter — that he was “letting her go” because he needed someone without children to work at the front desk. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 73.) When Plaintiff began crying and stated, “This is unfair. Please let me fix this. Give me an opportunity. What can I do to fix this?,” Garcia responded, “I need someone who does not have kids who can be at the front desk at all times.” (Id. ¶ 77.) He further asked, “How can you guarantee me that  two weeks from now your daughter is not going to be sick again? . . . So, what is it, your job or your daughter?” (Id. ¶ 82.) Garcia, Plaintiff’s direct supervisor, made these remarks to Plaintiff during the formal meeting terminating her employment. See Cartagena v. Ogden Serv. Corp., 995 F. Supp. 459, 463-64 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (finding that direct evidence of discriminatory remarks made by a person who decided to terminate the plaintiff was sufficient evidence to withstand a summary judgment motion). Garcia’s remarks could easily be viewed as a “smoking gun” admission that Garcia believed Plaintiff’s daughter was disabled and would be frequently ill and, further, that Plaintiff’s termination was directly motivated by Garcia’s hostility towards Plaintiff’s association with her daughter. At the very least, Plaintiff’s assertions create a “thick cloud of smoke” sufficient to require to “`convince the factfinder that, despite the smoke, there is no fire.’” Tyler v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 958 F.2d 1176, 1187 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 266 (1989) (O’Connor, J., concurring)).
Of course, Plaintiff must allege sufficient facts for a jury to infer that Garcia knew that Plaintiff’s daughter was disabled to render his comments actionable under the ADA. Prior text message communications support an inference that Garcia knew that Plaintiff’s daughter’s condition rose to the level of a disability. During Plaintiff’s employment at 878, her daughter was hospitalized on several occasions for days at a time due to difficulty breathing, resulting in the child being “extremely ill.” (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 62.) Further, Plaintiff told Garcia directly that her daughter was wheezing and, if an adult, would be considered asthmatic, with a condition referred to as Reactive Airway Disease in children. (Id. ¶ 67.) She later informed Garcia via text message that she had to “keep her [daughter] on asthma treatment every 4 hours.” (Id.) Under these circumstances, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the child’s progression of illness and Plaintiff’s statement regarding Reactive Airway Disease provided Defendants with knowledge that Plaintiff’s daughter was disabled, and not, as they claim, suffering from a number of temporary and isolated medical ailments.
While it was true that the employee in this case had relevant work attendance issues – having arrived late for work 27 times, leaving work early on 54 occasions, and being absent from work a total of 17 days during a period of 132 days of work, the employees personnel file only reflected only one instance of discipline when she received a single verbal warning regarding her tardiness. The remainder of the employees personnel file did not contain any other documentation regarding her attendance issues.
The lack of supporting documentation from the employer, however, was not the critical issue in this case. Rather it was the employer’s overtly discriminatory admission that the basis for terminating her was because she would not be able to “guarantee” her employer that she would not work miss work again in order to care for her chronically ill daughter. It was upon this basis which the Court relied in denying the defendant-employer’s motion for summary judgment.
Following the denial of its’ motion for summary judgment, the employer was left with the decision to either reach a settlement with the plaintiff, or risk the prospect of facing a jury trial in this matter. I am pretty sure that no juror is going to be sympathetic to a boss, manager or supervisor that says, “So, what is it, your job or your daughter?”
While all instances of employer disability discrimination may not be as overt and pronounced as in Manon v. 878 Education, LLC, Ohio law in Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.02, and Federal law as provided by the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) provide legal protections against similar unlawful discriminatory employment practices.
If you find yourself the victim of such an instance of unfair or discriminatory employment practices, you should seek the legal counsel of a qualified disability discrimination lawyer, and you should call the right attorney.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. The Spitz Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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