What is Associational Discrimination in Texas?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the bases of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.  The act prohibits discrimination with respect to a number of actions such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, transferring, or declining to hire a prospective employee.   Courts have universally held that Title VII also prohibits associational discrimination, which is the discrimination against individuals because of an association or relationship with members of a protected class. This protection is extended even if the individuals suffering the discrimination are not members of a protected class themselves. An example of associational discrimination is an employer deciding not to hire a prospective white employee because that person’s spouse is Hispanic.

Is This Law Made More Specific in Texas? 

Because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law, it applies to all Texas employers and employees.  The law protects people from discrimination based on their membership in a protected class and/or based on their association with members of a protected class. 

Although neither the Fifth Circuit nor the U.S. Supreme Court have explicitly outlined an associational discrimination standard, Texas federal district courts have unambiguously outlined a standard for associational discrimination claims.  An employee making an associational discrimination claim must establish that he or she was otherwise qualified for the job in question; that he or she suffered some type of adverse employment action; that the employer knew of the employee’s relationship with a member of a protected class; and that the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances raising a “reasonable inference” that the relationship was a determining factor in the adverse action.

Is Associational Discrimination Discussed Under the American’s With Disabilities Act? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also a federal law, so it also applies to Texas employers. While there is no specific test for associational discrimination under the ADA, the courts have adopted a test based on certain situations. The seminal case is Larimer v. IBM Corp. where the court found three types of situations that fall within the protections of the Act. 

First, the determination of whether the disabled spouse of an employee or potential employee will cause additional expense to the employer is a situation that might be eligible for an action. For example, if a disabled spouse will cause health insurance premiums to rise, and the employee is fired, then there might be evidence of discrimination. 

Secondly, and plainly, an employee can be discriminated against for having a disability by association. The court focused on possible genetic predisposition to certain impairments, such as might be present in an employee with HIV. 

Finally, if an employee is distracted by a spouse or family member with a disability, then that distraction could be a condition that might encounter discrimination. While potentially problematic, the level of distraction alongside any other discriminatory actions would be weighed to determine if any discrimination existed in this circumstance. 

All Texas employers are responsible for adhering to federal laws and any Texas courts’ interpretation of those federal laws to ensure that discrimination is removed from the workplace. If you have further questions about associational discrimination, contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Simon | Pascal, PLLC.

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