Earlier this year, the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals held that a non-disabled individual can sue a prospective employer for making an improper medical inquiry during the hiring process. In a case of first impression, the court joined a number of other circuits in permitting the plaintiff’s claim to proceed to a jury trial. (The Sixth Circuit, which covers Ohio, has not yet faced this issue).
In Harrison v. Benchmark Electronics Huntsville, the plaintiff was a temporary employee seeking a full-time position. He underwent a drug screening, which came back positive. In discussing the results with the company’s medical review officer (“MRO”), the plaintiff revealed he had epilepsy and treated his condition with prescribed barbituates. The MRO asked more questions, including how long the plaintiff had epilepsy, what type of medication he took, and in what dosages. This conversation occurred in front of the plaintiff’s supervisor, and he was subsequently denied regular employment.
The district court found the plaintiff’s medical condition did not constitute a “disability” under the ADA, and the appellate court did not take issue with this finding. The problem, according to the court, was the extent of the MRO’s questions about the plaintiff’s medical condition. He simply went too far, thereby running afoul of the ADA’s proscription against medical inquiries.
This case serves as a useful reminder to train all supervisors and HR professionals about the limits on what medical inquiries they may make of applicants and employees, whether or not they are disabled.