Federal Court Ruling Clarifies ADA Protections Concerning Employee Dishonesty

October 11, 2023

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia Clarksburg recently ruled in favor of an employer. The employer claimed that an employee they terminated had lied about existing medical conditions on his application. Allegedly, the employee voluntarily disclosed his disabilities. As such, the court found that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not cover the employee.

The Case

The plaintiff applied as a material handler for the West Virginia-based paper mill. The position required applicants to be able to operate heavy equipment, stand, push, and stoop for long periods, and lift up to 30 pounds. The paper mill asked applicants to identify any medical conditions in the employment application. 

When completing his application, he “elected not to divulge his confidential medical information before his hire.” Later, the plaintiff received a conditional offer of employment. The offer’s contingency required the results of a physical background check. It also relied on the truth, accuracy, and inclusion of any information that would materially impact the company’s decision to hire the plaintiff.

Following the offer, the plaintiff completed a Health History Questionnaire. It asked if he had ever experienced a strain, sprain, pain, stiffness, weakness, or other medical issues. He answered “never” for many of these questions. Furthermore, he claimed to find no questions concerning whether he had past or recent surgeries, hospitalizations, or conditions for which he received treatment.

The Complaint

According to the suit, the plaintiff worked for over a month before asking to meet with the company’s HR manager. At this meeting, the plaintiff disclosed his “disability.” He also mentioned having undergone three back surgeries over the previous two years and having a metal rod in his back.

Furthermore, the company claimed the plaintiff admitted to lying on the Health History Questionnaire. It also alleged that he failed to disclose this information during the physical. As a result, the defendant terminated the plaintiff’s employment for falsifying these records.

The plaintiff then sued the employer for disability discrimination under the ADA. He claimed the ADA prohibited these medical inquiries. The plaintiff also argued that the employer terminated him due to his disability. Though both parties filed motions for summary judgment, the court ruled in the employer’s favor.

The Findings

According to the court, the issue concerned whether the employee voluntarily disclosed his confidential medical information. According to the findings, the plaintiff voluntarily disclosed his medical history to the employer. As such, the ADA’s confidentiality requirements did not apply. This finding meant the ADA did not protect the plaintiff from termination due to sharing false information.

This ruling may benefit employers by providing further clarity regarding adverse employment-related actions due to dishonesty. However, employers should remain vigilant during the hiring process to maintain compliance. This requirement is especially crucial during the employment screening process, such as the criminal background check. Partnering with an experienced screening provider can help ensure compliance.

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