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Don’t rely on blanket statement about applicant’s fitness

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Louis Holiday passed a written exam and physical agility test to become a police officer in Chattanooga, Tenn. After the interview, he had a conditional offer, pending physical and psychological exams.

The city didn't routinely test for HIV or AIDS, but during the medical exam Holiday volunteered that he was HIV-positive and had been borderline anemic. The doctor told the city's personnel director that Holiday was not physically fit for police work.

The city withdrew the job offer and indicated that Holiday would be a safety threat to others. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A district court sided with the city, saying it had the right to rely on the doctor's medical opinion. But the 6th Circuit reversed the decision. It said the physician didn't conduct the type of individual inquiry the ADA requires. Plus, Holiday had plenty of evidence that he was physically qualified for the post: He served as a police officer in other cities before and after the Chattanooga interview. (Holiday v. City of Chattanooga, No. 98-5619, 6th Cir., 2000)

Advice: You can no longer simply rely on a physician's blanket "thumbs-up or thumbs-down" analysis of the applicant's ability to perform a job.

Make sure the physician does an individual assessment to determine whether a person's disability disqualifies him from a position. Also, require that he provide concrete medical reasons for the decision, not just a yes-no answer.

However, don't go too far. An invasive, irrelevant inquiry will violate the ADA and common law rights to privacy. Limit your inquiry to questions regarding the applicant's ability to perform the essential functions of the job.

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