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Sixth Circuit Considers what Constitutes a “Medical Examination” Under ADA

In a matter of first impression before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court considered what the meaning of  “medical examination” is under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In Kroll v. White Lake Ambulance Authority, the employer became concerned that an Emergency Medical Technician’s (EMT) personal relationship with a co-worker was impacting her ability to perform her job safely. The employer told the EMT that she had to see a psychologist for counseling in order to keep her job. The EMT refused to attend counseling, did not return to work, and subsequently sued the employer, alleging that the direction to undergo counseling by a psychologist was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed. 

In reaching its determination, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considered what constituted a "medical examination" under the ADA. It reasoned that 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A), prohibits employers from requiring a “medical examination” or making inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability unless the examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity. In contrast to many other provisions of the ADA, all individuals — disabled or not — may bring suit under this section. The  court reviewed the guidance directives provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, observing that an employer's intent is not dispositive as to whether something qualifies as a “medical examination” under the ADA. The employer's purpose must be considered in the larger factual context of a particular test or assessment's typical uses and purposes. With respect to counseling by a psychologist, the question is whether the procedure is likely to reveal evidence of a mental disorder or impairment providing the basis for discriminatory treatment.

This case is significant, not only because it represents a matter of first impression in this Circuit, but because it reminds employers to take caution when requesting that an employee undergo a procedure that might reveal evidence of a disability that could be the basis for disability discrimination. Any such inquiry must be strictly confined by the “job-relatedness” and “business necessity” requirements.

For more information read Kroll v. White Lake Ambulance Authority.

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