Judge Rules Port Authority Cannot Force Police Officers to Take Annual Medical Exams

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not just protect you against job discrimination based on any medical condition that you may have. It also forbids employers from making inquiries into your medical history during the hiring process or while you are actively employed. Among other things, the ADA prevents an employer from demanding you take a medical examination unless it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

Indiscriminate Medical Testing Not a “Business Necessity” Under the ADA

So what constitutes a “business necessity”? Recently, a federal judge in Manhattan considered this question when reviewing a challenge to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's policy requiring members of its police force to undergo annual and “fitness-for-duty” medical examinations. The judge rejected several aspects of these policies, holding the Port Authority failed to offer sufficient proof in support of their “business necessity.”

The plaintiff in this case is the union representing the Port Authority's approximately 1,700 sworn police officers. The union and the Port Authority have a pre-existing collective bargaining agreement. Under its terms, the Port Authority has the right to conduct annual and fitness examinations, in exchange for which the union's members received an additional paid day off.

Despite agreeing to the exams, however, the union still filed suit alleging the Port Authority's policies violate the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As mentioned above, the Port Authority claimed the exams were a business necessity and thus exempt under the ADA. On October 24, the judge presiding over the case issued a ruling on both sides' motion for summary judgment.

With respect to mandatory annual medical exams, the judge said the Port Authority's business necessity defense “falls short because it fails to demonstrate that it has a reasonable basis to suspect the class subject” to the exams–namely, all of the agency's police officers, including supervisors–“presents a safety risk” to the public. The Port Authority may not attempt to “draw a class tailored to its public safety rationale.” More importantly, the judge said the agency's own medical director admitted the exams themselves were designed to identify medical conditions that have “no impact on a police officer's ability to perform the job,” which is “broader and more intrusive than necessary” to achieve any legitimate objective under the ADA.

The judge also ruled the Port Authority's policy of requiring multiple fitness-for-duty medical examinations for any officer who takes at least five sick days violated the ADA. Once again, the Port Authority failed to demonstrate the business necessity of this rule. However, the judge did uphold fitness-for-duty exams for officers who were actually injured on the job, since such exams were necessary to determine workers' compensation eligibility.

Do You Need Help Fighting Disability Discrimination?

The Manhattan court's ruling is good news for the Port Authority's police officers, who will no longer face arbitrary exams designed to eliminate their right to medical privacy under the ADA. If your employer has implemented, or attempted to implement, a similar policy and you have questions about how that affects your legal rights, you should speak with a qualified New York employment attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today at (800) 496-3076 to schedule a consultation.

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