Associational discrimination illegal in Massachusetts

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) protects individuals who are associated with a disabled individual from employment discrimination. However, the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more workers. The Massachusetts employment discrimination statute is a little more inclusive, covering employers with six or more workers.  Under the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Flagg v. Alimed, employees in these smaller companies are also protected from discrimination based on their association with a disabled individual.

Details of the Case

  • The plaintiff’s wife suffered from a disabling brain tumor, which required extensive hospitalization and created significant medical costs.
  • During a hospital stay, the plaintiff’s employer discharged him, which cancelled his family health insurance policy.
  • The plaintiff filed suit, asserting that the employer fired him due to his wife’s disability.
  • The plaintiff alleged that his employer discharged him because he was associated with his disabled wife.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of the plaintiff, finding that the employer illegally discriminated against him under the state’s employment discrimination statute.  The ruling gave judicial weight to the long held stance of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination that the state statute covered association with members of a protected class.  Now, the highest court in the Commonwealth has weighed in to give employees who are caring for disabled loved ones protection from discriminatory employment practices.

If you have questions about discrimination based on association with a disabled individual, contact our office immediately to speak with a trained attorney.