California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act not only protects from discrimination employees in certain specified protected classes, but also employees who are “merely associated with” someone in a protected class. In an August 29, 2016 opinion, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed an order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer, Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (DHE), and ordered the trial court to allow Plaintiff Luis Castro-Ramirez’s associational discrimination claim (and related claims) to proceed to trial. [http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B261165A.PDF].
In Castro-Ramirez, the court confirmed and strengthened the protection available to employees associated with members of protected classes. Plaintiff Castro-Ramirez’s son required daily dialysis which only Mr. Castro-Ramirez could administer. The company accommodated this until a new supervisor took over and changed the plaintiff’s schedule. He then terminated Mr. Castro-Ramirez for refusing to work a shift that did not permit him to be home in time for his son’s dialysis.
What can employees learn from this ruling? This case centers on disability, but the law’s protection against associational discrimination can extend to all protected classes. An employee does not have to sever associations or relationships with a person based on the person’s disability, race, gender, or other protected characteristic. An employer may not discriminate against an employee based on those associations. Be aware of your rights and hold employers accountable if they violate them.
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