Withdrawing Job Offer Due to a Previous Injury May Violate the ADA

By Eric B. Meyer

Two big EEOC pet peeves right now are:

  1. Employers who discriminate in the hiring process; and,
  2. Employers who violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on misconceived notions about how an individual’s health could impact that person’s ability to perform essential job functions.

So, you’ve really got to be pushing your luck by betting the daily double and avoiding EEOC backlash.

Facts of the case

Last week, Florida-based company’s gamble didn’t pay off as a federal court granted summary judgment in favor of the EEOC (opinion here) based on allegations that the employer violated the ADA by withdrawing a job offer because of the plaintiff’s old back injury.

Here are the facts of the case (from the EEOC’s press release):

According to the EEOC’s suit, ATM made a provisional job offer to Michael Matanic as a process engineer, pending a health release. The company conducted a post-offer medical examination which revealed that Matanic had a successful back surgery six years prior for which he could not provide a medical release indicating he had no restrictions.

After ATM’s post-offer medical examination provider, Lakeside Occupational Medical Clinic, learned this, it refused to perform a back screen and complete Matanic’s physical examination. ATM, falsely regarding Matanic as disabled, withdrew the job offer and terminated his employment.

In the meantime, Matanic actually performed the job at ATM for two months while he attempted to obtain the requested medical release. At the time of his termination, Matanic was in good health and had a recent medical examination showing that he had no physical limitations on his ability to perform his job.”

Take care with an applicant’s medical history

Under the ADA, a “disability” is an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. Here, the court concluded that, by requiring the plaintiff to provide a medical release because of a prior back injury, the defendant regarded him as disabled.

Further, the ADA requires an individualized assessment of whether a disabled employee can perform the essential functions of the job.

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The defendant did not make this assessment. (Much like in this case, which is one my favorites when training employers). Instead, it relied upon “myths and fears” about the prior back injury in denying employment.

Oops.

Employers need to be very careful when getting into an applicant or employee’s medical history. For more on medical-related inquiries and the ADA, check out this guidance from the EEOC.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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