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Mass. Supreme Court holds that employer discriminated against employee because his wife needed cancer treatment

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held for the first time under Massachusetts law that an employer may not discriminate against an employee because of that employee’s association with a disabled person. In Flagg v. Alimed, Inc., Alimed fired Marc Flagg after 18 years of service to the company because his wife developed a cancerous brain tumor and required expensive medical treatment. So that it did not have to continue to carry Mr. Flagg and his wife on its health insurance plan, Alimed fired Mr. Flagg. After Alimed fired him, Mr. Flagg and his wife had no health insurance and they had to use their retirement savings to pay for her medical care.

Unlike the Maine Human Rights Act, Massachusetts’ disability discrimination law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against an employee because of his association with a disabled person. Nevertheless, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that its law prohibited such discrimination because people like Mr. Flagg are “regarded as” disabled. “When an employer takes adverse action against its employee because of his spouse’s impairment, it is targeting the employee as the direct victim of its animus, inflicting punishment for exactly the same reason and in exactly the same way as if the employee were handicapped himself,” the Court said.

Unfortunately, Alimed’s treatment of Mr. Flagg and his family is not uncommon. If your employer has fired you or plans to fire you because you or a member of your family has a disability which requires expensive medical care, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.