Judge: Don't Assume Disabled Applicants are Unqualified

December 6, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal appellate court has issued a warning that hiring managers should not prejudge a job applicant's medical condition and use that as the basis for rescinding a job offer.

The warning came in a recent ruling by the US 5 th Circuit Court of Appeals in a discrimination case involving an employee of ConAgra Grocery Products Co. who had an offer of a full-time position taken away when the employer decided his diabetes was “uncontrolled,” according to a report in the Texas Lawyer.

To assume an applicant’s condition renders them medically unable to perform the job runs afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and may lead to rulings that employers have discriminated against potential employees as a matter of law, wrote Circuit Judge Jacques Wiener.

“Such a policy not only ignores the ADA’s mandate that employers consider an impaired applicant on the basis of his actual abilities, but it also empowers ConAgra to make an end-run around the ADA’s prohibition of discrimination,” Wiener wrote.

According to the appellate ruling, Rodriguez was placed by a temporary staffing agency at the Fort Worth Ranch Style Beans factory, a plant owned by ConAgra, inTexas, in 2002. Rodriguez worked as a manual laborer unloading trucks and lifting heavy sacks of beans. Weeks later, he was offered a permanent position, contingent on passing a background check, a drug screen and a physical examination, according to the opinion.

The opinion said Rodriguez went to a private clinic that contracts with ConAgra to perform physical exams for a urinalysis that revealed he had an elevated concentration of glucose. Based on that information, and on the fact that Rodriguez could not remember the name of the medication he took to control his diabetes, a clinic doctor concluded that Rodriguez’s diabetes was “uncontrolled.” ConAgra rescinded the job offer, saying Rodriguez failed the physical exam, according to Wiener’s opinion.

Rodriguez filed an employment discrimination suit against ConAgra. In 2003, US District Judge Terry Means ofFort Worth dismissed the suit. Means ruled that Rodriguez failed to present any evidence that ConAgra withdrew his job offer because he has diabetes.

The 5th Circuit reversed and remanded Means’ decision, finding that the clinic doctor did not have enough information to determine that Rodriguez’s diabetes was uncontrolled and ConAgra did not have enough information to conclude he was unable to perform the job.

The 5 th  Circuit ruling is  here .