John Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc.
Case No. 18-2385, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 1800
Westlaw All Citations: 939 F.3d 465,
2019 A.D. Cases 357, 842, 60 NDLR P 21
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit,
September 24, 2019
Keywords: ADA, associated discrimination, motion to dismiss, termination of employment, ADA – general, employment, legal concepts, non-discrimination
John Kelleher brought a claim for associational discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in federal district court. His claim was dismissed. Mr. Kelleher appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the lower court decision.
Facts of the Case
John Kelleher was employed by Fred A. Cook, Inc., and had a child born with Rett Syndrome, a genetic neurologic disability. Mr. Kelleher’s child exhibited multiple symptoms of Rett Syndrome, including those similar to epilepsy.
Mr. Kelleher told the company he would have to leave immediately after his shift to care for his child. Mr. Kelleher also requested to work eight hour shifts and to take an emergency day off after his child was hospitalized. Mr. Kelleher was told by his supervisors that “his problems at home were not the company’s problems.”
Mr. Kelleher’s relationship with the company became difficult. The company changed his job responsibilities and demoted him. Weeks later, when he was late to work, he was fired.
Issues of the Case
- When an employer has an adverse reaction to requests from an employee associated with a person with a disability, is there a claim for associational discrimination under the ADA?
Arguments & Analysis
1. When an employer has an adverse reaction to requests from an employee associated with a person with a disability, is there a claim for associational discrimination under the ADA?
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined that, if the facts stated in Mr. Kelleher’s complaint were true, this would be enough to state a claim for associational discrimination under the ADA.
To state a claim for associational discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must allege:
- that the employee was qualified for the job at the time of an adverse employment action;
- that the employee was subjected to an adverse employment action;
- that the employee was known at the time to have an association with someone who has a disability; and
- that the adverse employment action was taken because of the association.
The law discourages dismissal of employment discrimination claims without an employer approving a legitimate (alternate) reason for the adverse action. There is a temporary presumption of discriminatory motive if a plaintiff can show:
- that they are a member of a protected class,
- that they were qualified for employment in the position,
- that they suffered an adverse employment action, and
- that there is some minimal evidence supporting an inference that the employer acted with discriminatory motivation.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit applied the correct standard to the facts. The Court determined one missed day of work, one 15-minute late arrival, and a tendency to leave immediately after shifts did not make Mr. Kelleher unqualified to perform his job. The Court also found the company’s reaction to his requests (i.e., “his problems at home were not the company’s problems.”) was enough evidence to show that a claim for associational discrimination was possible.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the decision of the federal district court was in error and the case was sent back to the lower court to decide the case again based on the guidance of the Court of Appeals.
Policy & Practice
Employees may be able to temporarily prevent their employers from firing them under the ADA if they show they can perform essential jobs duties with a reasonable accommodation.
Full Case Brief: John Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc.,
Case No. 18-2385, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 18001 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, September 24, 2019)
These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.