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Friday, November 2, 2007

Fly Eagles Fly -- Coach's situation illustrates associational diability claims under the ADA

Last week's win again the lowly Vikings aside, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles are a mess. Pre-season hopes have been dashed by Donovan McNabb's still-healing knee, wide receivers incapable of getting open, and, maybe, the personal turmoil of the head coach. Yesterday, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, judge sentenced each of Andy Reid's sons to 23 months in jail for different motor vehicle, drug, and gun violations. It was reported that one son was caught smuggling 89 pills into jail in his anus (yuck), and both were found in possession of a pharmacy's worth of legal and illegal drugs: OxyContin, morphine, Vicodin, Adderall, Prozac, Valium, cocaine, marijuana, testosterone, heroin, Trileptal and Percocet. During sentencing, the judge described the Reid house as a "drug emporium," characterized the brothers as "drug addicts," and opined that the Reid family "is a family in crisis." (See Judge: Jail for Reid sons; a family 'in crisis')
Let's suppose that the Eagles never rebound this season, finish well out of the playoff picture, and ownership decides to go in another direction next year and fires Andy Reid. Does Coach have a claim for discrimination? The answer is that he very well might. The Americans with Disabilities Act not only protects employees with disabilities, but also employees who are associated with individuals with disabilities: "'Discriminate' includes ... excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association." 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(4). It is just as unlawful to fire an employee because of a family member's disability as it is to fire an employee because of the employee's own disability. There is no doubt that drug addiction is a protected disability. Thus, if let go at season's end, Coach Reid could have a colorable claim that he was terminated because of his association with his drug-addicted sons.
Interestingly, unlike a claim brought by a disabled person, an employer is not required to reasonably accommodate an employee based on an association with a disabled person. Thus, Coach Reid would not be able to claim that the Eagles discriminated against him by not granting him sufficient time off to care care for his sons. Under the FMLA, however, the Eagles might have an obligation to grant the Coach 12 weeks of leave because of his sons' addictions could qualify as a serious health condition.
This issue is one that rarely comes up, but when it does it presents a potential trap for the unaware employer. For more information on associational claims under the ADA, I recommend the EEOC's Questions and Answers About the Association Provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
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