Court Upheld Employer Required Medical Exam

April 25, 2001 ( - An employer can require an independent medical exam (IME) for job-related purposes without establishing that the company "regards" the worker as disabled, according to a federal appeals court.

A unanimous three-judge panel held in Tice v. Centre Area Transportation Authority that the Americans with Disabilities Act allows employers to require an IME so long as it is “job-related” and there is a “business necessity” for doing so, according to the Legal Intelligencer.

It was the first time that the 3rd Circuit had ruled on the permissibility of medical exams and inquiries under the ADA.

The Case

Plaintiff Randy L. Tice complained that he was illegally fired from his job as a bus driver as a result of the disabling back injuries he suffered in a September 1996 car accident.

U.S. District Judge James F. McClure Jr. dismissed the suit after finding that Tice was neither disabled nor “regarded as” disabled.

However, on appeal Tice argued that his employer discriminated against him on the basis of disability by discharging him on a pretextual basis. 

Further, that CATA discriminated against him by requiring an improper medical examination as a condition of his return to work in June 1996, and that CATA failed to safeguard his medical records properly.

Major Life Activity?

Tice claimed to be disabled within the meaning of the ADA because his back injury constitutes an impairment that “substantially limits” the “major life activity” of working. 

However, the court held that the only “major life activity” limitation was his ability to drive a bus. 

In fact, the court noted that both before and after his termination from CATA, Tice found employment with an airline and began operating a ticket sales business out of his home.

The plaintiff’s case also threw in an interesting twist in alleging that his employer “regarded” him as disabled – a perspective he claimed was supported by their requirement that he submit to an independent medical exam before being allowed to return to work.

“A request for such an appropriately-tailored examination only establishes that the employer harbors doubts (not certainties) with respect to an employee’s ability to perform a particular job,” Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Edward R. Becker of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the opinion joined by Judges Theodore A. McKee and Walter K. Stapleton.

“Doubts alone do not demonstrate that the employee was held in any particular regard,” Becker said, and “inability to perform a particular job is not a disability.”

The ADA also explicitly permits “inquiries” — but not examinations — as to an employee’s ability to “perform job-related functions,” Becker noted. 

While the court said the ADA was unclear on the application of such exams to these situations, it found support in EEOC regulations that employers “may require a medical examination (and/or inquiry) of an employee that is job-related and consistent with business necessity.”