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Staffer Fired After Adding Disabled Spouse to Her Insurance Plan

June 5, 2015 Americans with Disabilities Act Claims

Woman sues employer under association provision of ADA

Your disabled family member – who happens to be on your health insurance – undergoes an expensive medical procedure.

Next thing you know, you’re being reprimanded for all kinds of inconsequential things. Soon enough, the company finds a reason to terminate you.

Unfortunately, this kind of subtle discrimination isn’t rare. It also generally isn’t legal.

The association provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people from discrimination due to their relationship with a disabled person.

For example, an employer can’t deny employment, terminate, demote or cause any other “adverse employment actions” based on the assumptions that:

An employee’s schedule may be disrupted due to caretaking duties

A staffer may catch and spread a contagious disease, such as HIV or AIDS

A worker’s family member may drive up the employer’s healthcare costs due to a chronic medical condition

But that doesn’t mean some companies won’t find other ways to drive out staffers they may view as liabilities because of their association with disabled loves ones.

Let’s take a look at a recent case to see how the courts handle these kinds of situations. 

Driving Up Costs

Deborah Crossley was an auditor clerk for the City of Coshocton, OH. After several years on the job, Crossley’s longtime partner was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The couple quickly decided to get married.

Crossley added her new husband to her health insurance plan.

Not long after that, she was called in to supervisor Sherry Kirkpatrick’s office.

Kirkpatrick was the city auditor. Visibly upset, she explained to Crossley that her new husband’s medical condition would raise insurance rates for the city and throw off the budget.

Tension between Kirkpatrick and Crossley began to build over the next few months as Crossley took intermittent FMLA to attend her husband’s chemotherapy appointments. Kirkpatrick was short with Crossley and appeared to be annoyed over schedule changes related to the treatments.

Several months later, Crossley’s husband required surgery. The city received a bill for $20,000 after the procedure.

Two days after the bill arrived, Kirkpatrick fired Crossley. Crossley asked why, and Kirkpatrick stated “We just don’t get along.” Crossley’s medical benefits were terminated that day.

Suspicious Timing

Crossley spoke to a lawyer. She sued on several counts, including that she was illegally discriminated against because of her association with a disabled person.

The city attempted to get the case thrown out, saying that Crossley was fired for insubordination, performance problems, and being rude to her supervisor and coworkers. 

But the court refused to dismiss the case. It ruled that there was enough evidence to show that the employer may have discriminated against Crossley because of her association with her husband. The court cited the conversation about health insurance costs, the disagreements surrounding Crossley attending chemotherapy appointments, and the timing of Crossley’s firing just after the medical bill arrived.

(The case discussed here is Crossley v. City of Coshocton.)

What It Means to You

Discrimination can come in many forms. However, it’s important to remember that courts are often wise to veiled discrimination tactics that companies may use to disguise their true motives.

If you’ve been discriminated against because of your association with a disabled person, it’s best to speak to an attorney.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.