The case is LaFata v. Dearborn Heights School District No.7, decided by District Court Judge Patrick J. Duggan of the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, and may be viewed here.

The facts of the case are that Adam LaFata, was working for the school district as a building supervisor when he applied for a job as a plant engineer. The job entailed maintenance of the inside and outside of a school building and required use of ladders, as well as carrying items weighing more than 40 pounds. He was given a conditional job offer contingent on his passing a medical examination. The job offer was then rescinded after a medical doctor chosen by the company (Perlson) diagnosed LaFata with Charcot Marie Tooth syndrome, a genetic disorder that gradually leads to muscle deterioration and loss of strength. This diagnosis was confirmed by LaFata’s family doctor (Sabal), but the two doctors disagreed with respect to whether LaFata could perform the job. Perlson concluded that LaFata was restricted with respect to climbing ladders and lifting 40 pounds or more. Sabal disagreed, concluding that LaFata’s strength was, “more than adequate for his job and daily activities.” Nevertheless, the school district rescinded the job offer on grounds that LaFata is a direct threat to himself and others. LaFata filed an ADA suit and the school district filed a summary judgment motion.

Judge Duggan denied summary judgment on two grounds. First, he ruled that Perlson’s recommendations were “nothing more than a cursory physical examination of Plaintiff” and that Sabal’s recommendations, which were based on more thorough medical analysis, were not even considered. Second, the school district failed to engage in an interactive process to determine if LaFata could perform the essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodations, and if so, what accommodations would serve to enable LaFata to perform those functions. As for the direct threat claim, Judge Duggan ruled it was “doomed by the failure to engage in an interactive process to assess the availability of reasonable accommodations.”

The moral of the story is that employers are entitled to make job offers contingent on medical exams, but they must be sure that the information is more than just cursory and, regardless of the nature of that information, they must ensure that they take steps to engage in an interactive process to determine if (a) the medical condition is a barrier to performance of essential job functions, and (b) if so, whether there are reasonable accommodations that could overcome the barrier.

by Art Gutman, Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

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