Employer to pay $165,000 to settle associational disability bias claim

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New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates, P.C. will pay $165,0000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that it discriminated against an employee on the basis that she is the mother of  a now three-year-old child with disabilities, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced September 1.

“The ADA specifically prohibits discrimination against mothers, fathers, caregivers, family members or others who are associated with persons with disabilities,” EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill said in a news release. “Employers, especially those employers in medical fields, should be careful to provide employment opportunities based solely on the qualifications of the employee or applicant and not impermissible factors such as their association with an individual with a disability.”

Melissa Yalch Valencia previously worked a temporary job as a medical assistant with New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates. The company allegedly refused to promote her to a full-time position and terminated her employment on the basis of her association with  her daughter.

In July 2015, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against the company in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, alleging that its actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition to paying the $165,000, the settlement requires the company to provide annual ADA training and “develop and implement a management evaluation and compensation system” that takes into account compliance with anti-discrimination laws. It must also create a non-discrimination policy and report discrimination complaints to the EEOC.

The Court will maintain jurisdiction over the settlement for at least two years.

“It should never have happened. A mother should never have to worry about losing her job because her child has a disability,” Yalch Valencia said in the news release. “I hope the lawsuit encourages moms and dads to stand up fearlessly when things like this happen.”