California Supreme Court Refuses to Hear FEHA Case of Association Discrimination: What it Means for Employees and Employers

Supreme CourtSometimes, a court’s decision not to act can be enormously important in affecting the law. This was the case recently when the California Supreme Court refused to accept an employer’s appeal in a truck driver’s Fair Employment and Housing Act case. The high court’s refusal to issue an opinion in the case leaves intact a Court of Appeal ruling that offers hope to employees that the FEHA’s anti-discrimination provisions may extend not only to persons with disabilities but also to persons without disabilities who are victims of workplace discrimination due to being closely associated with a person with disabilities.

The case, Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., was one involving a truck driver who undisputedly had no qualifying disability whatsoever. However, the employee had a son who had a disability, and that disability required the boy to receive dialysis treatment, which the father played a major role in administering.

Initially, and for roughly three years, the employer had provided the driver with a schedule that accommodated his need to be home at certain times to deliver the dialysis treatment in accordance with the medically dictated schedule. However, after a change in supervisors, the driver found himself working a new schedule that was more problematic. The driver explained his situation, but his new supervisor told him to work the shift for which he was scheduled or lose his job. The conflict escalated into a termination and, subsequently, a lawsuit by the driver accusing the employer of violating the FEHA.

The key issue in the case was whether the employer could be found to have violated the FEHA for discriminating against an employee who was not disabled but was closely associated with a person with disabilities. The trial court ruled for the employer, but the Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the FEHA’s prohibition against disability discrimination extended to include a prohibition against discriminating against employees who are not disabled but are associated with a person with disabilities. The employer asked for a rehearing, and the appeals court issued a new opinion stating it was not deciding the issue of associational discrimination, but it nevertheless appeared to give a clear signal that an employer’s failure to accommodate under such a circumstance potentially could give an employee a valid basis for a FEHA claim.

By virtue of the high court’s refusing to take up Dependable’s case, the appellate court ruling remains in place. This may present new opportunities for employees who suffer discrimination by their employers. With this decision in place, an employee whose request for accommodation is declined without a valid, non-discriminatory reason for the refusal may now have a case for discrimination in violation of the FEHA.

When it comes to situations in which you believe you have been a victim of improper workplace discrimination, it is important to act promptly and decisively and work with knowledgeable counsel who is current on the law in this evolving area. The diligent Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch are keenly dedicated to the legal issues facing employees and have up-to-date knowledge on the rulings affecting discrimination laws and the extent to which they can affect your case. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

California Appeals Court Rules that FEHA Protections Cover Employees who Have Family Members With Disabilities, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, April 29, 2016

Employee Allowed to Pursue Claim of Discrimination Based Upon Intent to Donate Organ, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Nov. 15, 2013