A recent decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals addresses “association discrimination” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) in the context of medical insurance expenses. The plaintiff in the case contended that she was fired because of her husband’s high medical bills. The company was self-insured for the first $250,000 of annual covered medical costs, and the medical bills for the plaintiff’s husband had been over $316,000 in the three years before the termination. As the costs were being tracked, a manager talked to the plaintiff about steps to reduce the medical expenses. Later there were meetings to discuss the employer’s financial troubles and ways to cut costs. The plaintiff was fired shortly after that. Even though she was terminated for non-performance reasons, she was labeled as being ineligible for rehire. The Court held that the plaintiff’s association discrimination could go forward because there was enough direct evidence" that the hospital fired her because of her husband’s condition. The Court states as follows:
[T]he timing of [the company]’s termination suggests that the financial albatross of Anthony’s continued cancer treatment was an important factor in Proctor’s decision…. One could reasonably infer that Dewitt was terminated after Proctor conducted its latest periodic analysis of medical claim "outliers" and, this time around, decided that its "wait and see" strategy with the Dewitts was costing the hospital tens of thousands of dollars every year. A reasonable juror could conclude that Proctor, which faced a financial struggle of indeterminate length, was concerned that Anthony—a multi-year cancer veteran—might linger on indefinitely…. Because Dewitt has established that direct evidence of "association discrimination" may have motivated Proctor in its decision to fire her, a jury should be allowed to consider her claim.
The case is Dewitt v. Proctor Hospital (7th Cir. Feb. 27, 2008) and is reported here.