The EEOC recently reminded us that the Americans with Disabilities Act extends to employees associated with a disabled person. In its recent suit against The Timken Company for gender and disability discrimination, the EEOC alleges that Timken refused to hire an employee for a full-time position as a process technician because of her  gender and because she is the mother of a disabled child. The employee had worked at another Timken facility on a part-time basis before applying for the full-time position. The EEOC charges that Timken’s refusal to hire the employee due to concerns about her ability to work full-time and care for a disabled child violated the ADA and  Title VII.

This case raises several points:

  • The EEOC is serious about protecting employees from discrimination based on their association with a disabled person (i.e. the employee need not be disabled to bring a claim);
  • Employers need to focus not only on potential new-hires, but also on current employees to avoid denying employment benefits or accommodations based on the employee’s association with a disabled person; and
  • Managers should be trained on their responsibility to avoid potential discrimination, to recognize the need for accommodations, and to avoid common stereotypes and assumptions (e.g. women with caregiving responsibilities can’t handle the fast-track).

In addition to a marked increase in EEOC claims, we are seeing evidence that the EEOC is devoting more time to investigations and stepping up enforcement efforts. It is critical that management and supervisor training include all possible forms of discrimination. A comprehensive training program is one of the most valuable defenses to a discrimination claim of any type.