- A hospital that fired an administrator as part of a cost-cutting reduction in force was granted summary judgment on the administrator's age and associational disability bias claims (Dodson v. Coatesville Hospital Corporation, No. 18-3065 (3rd Cir. June 3, 2019)).
- The CEO noted at a management meeting that the hospital was spending a lot of money treating the illnesses of employees' family members and insinuated it was "because of [their] age," court documents said. The administrator had two family members, including a husband with colon cancer, receiving treatment at the hospital. The CEO asked the administrator a lot of questions about her husband's diagnosis and treatment plan, according to the documents.
- The hospital presented a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the termination — the need to reduce costs — and the administrator knew that the hospital had needed to eliminate positions since she started. Because she could not show that the reason for her termination was pretextual, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's ruling of summary judgment in favor of the hospital.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents bias not just against a qualified individual with a disability, but also against an employee who has a "known relationship or association" with a person with a disability. In this case, the administrator claimed bias on the basis of her relationship with her husband, who had colon cancer.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says employers are prohibited from making "adverse employment decisions based on unfounded concerns about the known disability of a family member, or anyone else with whom the applicant or employee has a relationship or association."
It's important to note that this relationship or association does not have to be familial or even particularly close for this provision to apply. In a Q&A guidance, the EEOC cites the hypothetical example of an employee who volunteers at a homeless shelter that is well-known for helping people with HIV/AIDS; the employee is then illegally terminated because his or her employer believes its image will be tarnished by having an employee who is associating with the "kind of person" who contracts HIV/AIDS.
This case also illustrates how damaging stray comments can be, especially if they are made by high-level officers or managers. Recent cases allowed to proceed, among others, involved a supervisor who commented on an employee's "gaydar," a manager who said a 59-year-old employee had "dinosaur age related theories," and a supervisor who referred to an employee as a "stupid Egyptian guy."