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Third Circuit Upholds Termination of Employee for Dishonesty About Drug Addiction on a Post-Offer Medical Questionnaire

A hospital-employer hired the employee as a security guard. On his post-offer medical questionnaire, the employee affirmatively stated that he had never suffered from drug or alcohol addiction in the past nor participated in a drug and alcohol treatment program.

Later, the employee suffered an injury at work and reported to the hospital’s emergency department. When discussing his treatment with the physician, the employee indicated that he was a recovering drug addict. The employee’s medical information was then transferred to the hospital’s employee services division.  Upon learning that the employee had suffered from past drug addiction, the hospital terminated the employee for dishonestly on his post-offer medical questionnaire. The employee filed a claim against the employer alleging that the employer improperly terminated the employee for his past history of drug addiction in violation of the Americans with Disabilities act (ADA). In his deposition in the case, the employee further admitted that he had attended a court-ordered drug treatment program in the past. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. 

The Third Circuit affirmed this decision finding that the employee failed to show that the reason for his termination was due to his past drug addiction and not his dishonesty on his medical questionnaire. The Court noted that the fact that the employee did not believe his court-ordered drug and alcohol program was addiction treatment did not mean that the employer could not have reasonably viewed his negative response to the question regarding treatment as dishonesty. The Court further held that the employee failed to present any evidence that the employer’s reason for the termination was pretextual. 

On appeal, the employee also argued that the employer violated the ADA because it improperly obtained and reviewed his medical records. However, the Third Circuit found that the employee had waived this argument because he had not raised it in the District Court. The Court also denied the employer’s motion for sanctions and refused to find that the appeal was wholly without merit. 

This case serves as a reminder to employers to clearly document their reasons for terminating an employee and that an employee’s failure to answer post-offer medical questions in a forthright manner could serve as grounds for termination.For more information read Reilly v. Lehigh Valley Hospital, Case No. 12-2078 (3d Cir. Mar. 29, 2013).

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