[author: Ted Olsen]
Can an employer lawfully fire a non-disabled employee because her responsibilities caring for a disabled child preclude her from working weekends? In Magnus v. St. Mark United Methodist Church,* the Seventh Circuit ruled that an employer may lawfully discharge such an employee.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against "a qualified individual " because of his or her "relationship or association" with a disabled individual.** The next subsection of the law prohibits an employer from discriminating by not making "reasonable accommodations" for "the known physical and mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee."*** In Magnus, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the reasonable accommodation requirement of this second statutory provision does not apply to persons in the first statutory provision.
The Magnus case was filed by a secretary with a mentally disabled daughter; she had a "relationship or association" with a disabled individual.**** She claimed that she was fired because of her "relationship or association" with her daughter, as she was discharged one day after she arrived at work one hour late due to her caring for her daughter. Both the district court and the Second Circuit held that the plaintiff could not prove such discrimination - the termination decision was made before she arrived late for work, there was no evidence the church was unhappy about her one hour tardy, there was no evidence the church was displeased by her attendance, and the church had long known of her daughter's mental limitations.
The plaintiff in Magnus, the Seventh Circuit reasoned, was actually claiming that the church had failed to make reasonable accommodations for her, by freeing her from weekend work when she needed to care for her daughter. Indeed, it was undisputed that one of the grounds for the discharge was her refusal to work weekends because of her child-care responsibilities. The Court explained that the church had tried to devise many alternative schedules to allow all the secretaries to have some weekends off, but that all the schedules required the secretaries to do some weekend work. Hence, the plaintiff's unavailability to work weekends was one reason for her dismissal. But more importantly, the Court held, the church was not obligated to make reasonable accommodations for a person with a "relationship or association" with a disabled person.
This ruling follows a federal regulation issued in the aftermath of the 2008 ADA Amendments Act, 29 C.F.R. § 1630.8. "[A]n employer need not provide . . . [an] employee without a disability with a reasonable accommodation because that duty only applies to qualified . . . employees with disabilities."
* Magnus v. St. Mark United Methodist Church, No. 11-3767 (7th Cir. Aug. 8, 2012)
**42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4)
***42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A)
****42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4)