Exam Request Lawful Due to Safety Concerns

By James Denis

Feb. 9, 2010

Paul James operated an industrial mixer at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s tire manufacturing plants in Tennessee from 1987 until September 2004. During his employment, James suffered from progressive multiple sclerosis, but performed his duties without problems until 2003, when he could work only “with extreme difficulty.” He suffered weakness, weight gain and increased muscle spasms in his legs. His left-foot drag worsened and he had to sit for prolonged periods. After Goodyear management learned of his deteriorating condition, the company ordered him to undergo an evaluation test to determine his work capacity.

Rather than undergo the test, James decided to retire and receive temporary disability benefits. After accepting medical retirement, James complained that he had been singled out for testing based on his disability. James alleged that if he had taken the exam and failed it, Goodyear would have most likely terminated him.

James sued claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act stemming from the company’s request that he undergo a functional capacity evaluation, and alleged that the test was an adverse employment action. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee granted Goodyear’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the company’s safety concerns justified requiring James to submit to the test.

James appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 6th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of James’ lawsuit and held that “a valid [functional capacity evaluation] demand cannot constitute an adverse employment action under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Because Goodyear had legitimate concerns about James’ ability to work safely, the demand for an exam was lawful and could not be the basis of a claim for disability discrimination. James v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 6th Cir., No. 08-6332.

Impact: Functional capacity evaluations, prompted by legitimate safety concerns, are lawful.

Workforce Management, February 2010, p. 10Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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