Legal Alert: Sixth Circuit Clarifies Employee's Burden of Proof for ADA Association Discrimination Claim Under the Distraction Theory


The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the decision of a lower court holding that a plaintiff was not entitled to trial on his associational disability claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because he could not establish that he was terminated because of his association with his disabled wife. See Stansberry v. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. (July 6, 2011). The Court's decision clarifies what a plaintiff must show to prove a "distraction" theory claim under the ADA.

Eugene Stansberry managed Air Wisconsin's operation at the Kalamazoo Airport from 1999 through July 2007. For a variety of performance reasons, Stansberry's employment was terminated at the end of July 2007. After his discharge, Stansberry sued, alleging his termination was a violation of the ADA. He claimed he suffered job discrimination because of his association with a disabled person (his wife). The trial court granted summary judgment to Air Wisconsin and dismissed Stansberry's lawsuit because Stansberry failed to establish an associational disability cause of action. Stansberry appealed the trial court ruling, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

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