Sunday, September 22, 2013
Associational disability discrimination ruling broadens scope of Chapter 151B
In July, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a landmark ruling in which it decided that an employee may sue his employer for discrimination on the basis of his wife's disability. The decision in Flagg v. Alimed is the first decision recognizing a claim of associational discrimination based on disability – where the employee's claim is based on his association with a disabled person. These claims have been recognized for association with other protected classes – such as race or gender – but never before with disability. The ruling, as commentators have said, significantly broadens the scope of Chapter 151B, the state's anti-discrimination statute. In fact, although Justice Ralph Gants issued a concurring opinion in which he asserted that the decision was limited to the situation where an employer does not want to bear the higher medical costs for an employee's family member, the full court's opinion does not include such a limitation, and appears to significantly expand the scope of the statute's protection.