Massachusetts is at the Forefront of Labor Protection for "Associational Handicap"

General Massachusetts Law Chapter 151B Section 4(16) prohibits associational discrimination based upon handicap. In 2013 the Massachusetts Supreme Court heard a case of first impression, Flagg v. AliMed, 466 Mass 23 (2013) in order to determine the coverage of Massachusetts’ Associational Handicap statute.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court determined the state associational discrimination statute covered a father who had to pick his daughter up from school because his wife had a brain tumor removed. The employee who brought this case was terminated while his wife was back in the hospital treating for recurrence of her brain tumor. As a result of the termination, the employee immediately lost his health insurance.

The Court reasoned the Massachusetts associational discrimination statute was intended to serve a remedial purpose and should cover this situation. However, the Court made clear the holding was limited to the immediate family member context, and was not deciding whether an employee with a handicapped spouse is entitled to a reasonable accommodation. Expect future appeals and litigated cases on the Massachusetts Associational Handicap statute.

Besides being a licensed labor lawyer in Massachusetts, I also represent employees in California where I first became a licensed lawyer in 1993. Many regard California as a very liberal state. In California there is case and statutory law about being treated adversely, being fired, or terminated due to being associated with a person in a protected category under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. However, those California developments are somewhat recent. It should, however, be noted, the California legislature has not gone as far as the Massachusetts Legislature to specifically enact a statute about associational handicap. The American Disability Act (ADA) does cover associational discrimination.

The Massachusetts associational discrimination law is a very modern labor law. It will be interesting to see what types of cases develop from it.

Please feel free to check my Massachusetts website where I write about developments in Massachusetts labor law, or my California website where I report on conditions in labor law.

Karl Gerber, Representing Employees Since 1993