Federal and state discrimination laws prevent employers in the United States from discriminating against treating a worker or job applicant differently simply because of his or her association with someone in a protected class. The protections provided by these laws apply throughout every stage of the employment process; from screenings and interviews to benefits and promotions, and of course, termination. Even with these protections in place, associational discrimination can, and does occur.
Protected Characteristics and Employment Discrimination
The Illinois Human Rights Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals who are members of protected categories and those who are associated with people in legally protected classes. Just some of the protected characteristics include:
- Race, color, national origin, ancestry, and citizenship status
- Sex, age, sexual orientation and marital status
- Medical conditions, pregnancy, childbirth and mental or physical handicap or disability
- Military status or unfavorable discharge from the military
- Arrest record
In many cases, associational discrimination claims are filed by spouses or family members of individuals who have protected characteristics. This isn’t always the case, however. Wrongful terminations lawyers also see cases where employees are terminated or otherwise discriminated against because of their association with protected groups through volunteer work or other means.
Associational Discrimination in Illinois
Associational discrimination claims by workers who have been wrongfully terminated occur throughout the United States, and Illinois is not immune. In 2014, an Illinois receptionist’s partner was diagnosed with breast cancer. While the two worked in separate buildings, their employer was the same. The woman was terminated by their facilities manager not long after her diagnosis, and the manager admitted that he fired her due to her health problems. That same day, the receptionist left work (with employer pre-approval) to take the partner to a doctor appointment. At the end of his shift the next day, he was terminated as well.
The partner with breast cancer sued for discrimination.The receptionist sued for associational discrimination on the basis that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) association provision, the employer was prohibited from firing the receptionist based upon his association with his partner who was in a protected class.