WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced it has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland against Baltimore County, Md., alleging that the county engaged in unlawful employment practices. The department simultaneously filed a consent decree to resolve these allegations. In its complaint, the department alleges that the county violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring employees to submit to medical examinations and disability-related inquiries without a proper reason, and by excluding applicants from emergency medical technician (EMT) positions because of their diabetes.
The complaint identifies 10 current and former police officers, firefighters, EMTs, civilian employees and applicants who were allegedly subjected to inappropriate and intrusive medical examinations and/or other disability-based discrimination. Some employees were allegedly required to undergo medical examinations or respond to medical inquiries that were unrelated to their ability to perform the functions of their jobs. The complaint also alleges that the county required employees to submit to medical examinations that were improperly timed, such as requiring an employee who was on medical leave and undergoing medical treatment to submit to a medical exam even though the employee was not attempting to return to work yet.
According to the complaint, numerous affected employees – some of whom had worked for the county for decades – submitted to the improper medical exams for fear of discipline or termination if they refused. The complaint also alleges that the county retaliated against an employee who tried to caution against the unlawful medical exams. Additionally, the complaint alleges that the county refused to hire two qualified applicants for EMT positions because they had diabetes.
“The result of the county’s discriminatory policies and practices was to force employees, including veteran police officers and firefighters, to submit to invasive and unjustified medical examinations and inquiries,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The ADA does not tolerate this type of conduct and neither does the Justice Department.”
The consent decree, which must be approved by the court, requires the county to: pay $475,000 to the complainants and provide additional work-related benefits (including retirement benefits and back pay, plus interest); adopt new policies and procedures regarding the administration of medical examinations and inquiries; refrain from using the services of the medical examiner who conducted the overbroad medical examinations in question; cease the automatic exclusion of job applicants who have insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; and provide training on the ADA to all current supervisory employees and all employees who participate in making personnel decisions.
Title I of the ADA prohibits employers, such as Baltimore County, from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in various aspects of employment. The ADA’s provisions concerning disability-related inquiries and medical examinations reflect Congress’s intent to protect the rights of applicants and employees to be assessed on merit alone, while protecting the rights of employers to ensure that individuals in the workplace can efficiently perform the essential functions of their jobs. An employer violates the ADA if it requires its employees to undergo medical examinations or submit to disability-related inquiries that are not related to how the employee performs his or her job duties, or if it requires its employees to disclose overbroad medical history or medical records. Employers are also prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities unless they show that the exclusion is consistent with business necessity and they are prohibited from retaliating against employees for opposing practices contrary to the ADA.
Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov.