The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), together with other state and local employment laws, require an employer to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees and job applicants who have a documented medical impairment. The ADA only goes so far, however. An employer may refuse to accommodate and even refuse to hire an employee whose condition poses a “direct threat” to workplace safety. In other words, if the employer can prove the employee or applicant “poses a significant risk to the health and safety of others,” and there is no reasonable accommodation available to mitigate said risk, the employee is effectively “not qualified” to perform the job.
Judge Denies NYPD's Motion to End Case Against Rejected Applicant With MS
The threat defense requires evidence of “significant” risk. It is not enough for the employer to cite a hypothetical or remote risk to safety. The employer needs to make an individual assessment of an employee or applicant's ability to perform the job based on the available medical evidence.
The direct threat defense is therefore a high burden for the employer to meet. Here is an illustration of this in practice. This case involves a rejected applicant to the New York Police Department. The plaintiff applied to the NYPD four years ago after graduating from college. While an undergraduate, a doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disorder that can produce a variety of symptoms.
The NYPD's chief surgeon reviewed the plaintiff's medical records and “disqualified” him from employment on the basis of the MS diagnosis. The plaintiff then sued the NYPD for discrimination under the ADA and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). The NYPD subsequently moved for summary judgment, invoking the threat defense.
The judge overseeing the case denied the motion. Summary judgment is normally appropriate when the undisputed facts of a case require the court to reach a particular judgment as a matter of law. But here, the judge explained, there was a material dispute over whether the plaintiff's MS created “a significant risk to the health and safety or others.” Although that was the conclusion of the NYPD's chief surgeon, the plaintiff's own treating neurologist found he was “medically stable for entry into the NYPD as a cadet” and that his current medical status was largely normal “except for mild sensory loss in the first two fingers on the left hand.” Given this conflicting medical evidence, it was inappropriate to grant summary judgment.
Contact a New York Disability Discrimination Lawyer Today
If you suspect your medical condition may keep you from getting a particular job, it is critically important that you document your treatment. Medical records often serve as crucial evidence in disability discrimination cases. You should also be mindful of the need to work with a skilled New York employment law attorney who is experienced when it comes to fighting and winning discrimination lawsuits. Contact the offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, at 646.760.6493 today if you have been the victim of any kind of work-related discrimination and need legal advice on what steps to take next.