Former Employee Unable to Prove Termination Was Based on Daughter’s Disability

A former employee’s association discrimination claim failed because she could not show that her termination was based on the City’s “embarrassment” over her daughter’s bipolar disorder. Lester v. City of Lafayette (D. Colo. 2015).

Former senior services center manager, Mary Lester, was terminated in July 2012 for violating the City’s bidding and purchasing policy. This was shortly after Lester’s daughter began inpatient treatment for bipolar disorder. Lester alleged that her termination was motivated by the City’s embarrassment over her daughter’s condition and in violation of the Americans with Disability Act’s prohibition against association discrimination.

As proof of the City’s embarrassment, Lester offered a reprimand she received following an incident where police responded to a property dispute between Lester and her daughter. The court said that even if it recognized “embarrassment” as a basis for an association discrimination claim, the incident Lester cited was “only tangentially related to her daughter’s disability, if at all.” The court was persuaded that Lester was disciplined for her own conduct toward police.

Lester also unsuccessfully argued that the City terminated her to avoid the expense of her daughter’s care. She offered in support other managers’ frequent statements about lowering the cost of health insurance through wellness plans. But Lester failed to offer evidence showing that the City was tracking the cost of her daughter’s health care.

The court rejected Lester’s final argument, that the timing of her termination—shortly after her daughter entered treatment—showed a discriminatory motive. The City showed that some employees became aware of her daughter’s diagnosis in 2007, five years prior to her termination. Lester offered no evidence that the cost of her daughter’s care had increased since then, which might have shown a motive to discriminate.

Association discrimination claims are relatively rare. This case is a reminder that such claims are possible and offers one successful strategy for defending against them.