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Employer Justified In Requiring Mental Health Examinations

Deanna Painter worked as an office administrator for the Illinois Department of Transportation. After receiving some complaints regarding her behavior, IDOT put her on leave and required her to undergo a fitness for duty examination. The doctor found she could perform the essential functions of her position but noted that she might be “bipolar.” Ms. Painter was reevaluated in 45 days as recommended by the doctor. In that examination, it was advised that she see a mental health specialist. Ms. Painter began to be treated by the psychologist to whom she was referred. She was allowed to return to work but transferred to a new division. She had problems with the employees in her new job. IDOT kept records of the various complaints and placed her on administrative leave. A psychiatrist hired by IDOT found her fit for duty but felt she might have a personality disorder. She returned to work and was the subject again of numerous complaints by co-workers for being argumentative and unprofessional. Thus, she was placed on another administrative leave based on the new series of complaints and another review by the psychiatrist. On this last occasion, she was declared unfit for duty “because of her ‘paranoid thinking and the highly disruptive behavior which results from her paranoia.’”

Ms. Painter filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging that it was violated by her forced unnecessary medical exams. The district court granted summary judgment to IDOT.

On appeal, only the examinations by the psychiatrist were challenged. While IDOT bore a high burden to establish that the examinations were consistent with business necessity, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that IDOT met its burden. Evidence of the various complaints and statements by co-workers established that the examinations were “job related and consistent with business necessity.” The multiple explorations of her mental health were permissible because they reflected concern for the safety of other employees and the public-at-large.