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Den Hartog v. Wasatch Academy, 129 F.3d 1076 (10th Cir. October 28, 1997)
Keywords: ADA (associational discrimination, defense of direct threat)
Introduction: Den Hartog sued his former employer under the ADA for association discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment for the Academy. The Tenth Circuit affirms.
Facts: Hartog was a teacher at Wasatch Academy, a boarding school, from 1964 until 1994, with the exception of two years where he worked elsewhere. Hartog and his family lived on campus, which was a job requirement.
In 1992, Hartog's son, Nathaniel, was diagnosed as having "bipolar affective disorder" (formerly called "manic depressive psychosis"). Nathaniel was hospitalized and treated. Upon his release, he returned to the Wasatch campus.
The Court's opinion describes in detail a litany of abnormal conduct on Nathaniel's part directed primarily at Joseph Loftin, the headmaster.
Included in this litany is the fact that Nathaniel took Loftin's sixteen-year-old son, Travis, to another town, without Loftin's knowledge, tried to get Travis admitted to a psychiatric hospital and then abandoned Travis there. After this episode, Nathaniel tried to maintain contact with Travis. Nathaniel threatened to slit his wrists if Loftin would not put Travis on the phone and at another time, Nathaniel threatened to harm Loftin's four-year-old daughter and threatened Loftin.
On May 14, 1993, Loftin assigned Hartog the responsibility for spending the next school year writing the school history from an office in Salt Lake City (Wasatch Academy was located in another town). Hartog was provided a living allowance.
However, due to continued problems with Nathaniel, Loftin decided not to renew Hartog's contract -- although the actual reason given was the elimination of Hartog's position.
1. Bipolar disorder is a disability under the ADA.
2. Hartog relies on an ADA claim of "association discrimination." This provision prohibits an employer from excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association.
3. The issue in this case is whether the association provision protects a qualified employee from adverse employment action based on his disabled associate's misconduct, where the associate's misconduct does not impair the employee's job performance.
4. Based on the statute, the legislative history and EEOC determinations, the Tenth Circuit holds that an employer is not required to provide reasonable accommodations to the non-employee who has the disability.
5. To establish a prima facie case of association discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must demonstrate the following:
6. Although the district court did not engage in the prima facie analysis, it presumably found that Hartog had established a prima facie case because it addressed the other elements of the McDonnell Douglas analysis.
7. The Academy asserted the "direct threat" defense, which requires a showing of a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation. The Academy argues that Nathaniel was a direct threat in the literal sense and that Hartog was a direct threat because he was unwilling to cooperate in keeping Nathaniel off campus.
8. The Tenth Circuit holds that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Nathaniel posed a significant risk to the safety of members of the Wasatch community. But this is a factual question as to whether Hartog posed a direct threat.
9. But the Tenth Circuit affirms the grant of summary judgment because it holds that the ADA permits an employer to discipline or discharge a non-disabled employee whose disabled relative or associate, because of his or her disability, poses a direct threat to the employer's workplace. Click here to see actual case.
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