7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in ADA Lawsuit

On November 4, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the plaintiff claimed that he was dismissed from a police academy because of his actual or perceived disability.  Sandefur v. Thomas J. Dart and Cook County, Illinois, No. 19-2787 (7th Cir. Nov. 4, 2020).  Plaintiff was a corrections officer for the Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois.  The ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.  To establish an ADA claim, a plaintiff must plead and prove that she: (1) was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) was qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability.

The district court found that the plaintiff failed to offer evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find that he was removed from the academy because of his (back related) disability.  The district court concluded that "the evidence is that [plaintiff] was dismissed from the academy because defendants believed that he lied about his disability."  The district court rejected the plaintiff's argument that a jury could find that the defendants' proffered reason for his dismissal was pretext for disability discrimination.  On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the defendants violated the ADA by: (1) dismissing him from the academy because of a real or perceived disability; (2) performing an unlawful medical inquiry; (3) launching impermissible disability-related inquiries; (4) failing to engage in the interactive process; (5) discriminating through the use of medical information; and (6) pursuing revocation of his handicapped parking placard.  The plaintiff's core ADA claim is that he was dismissed from the academy and consequently lost an opportunity for promotion because the defendants regarded him as having a disability.  He also claimed that the defendants violated the ADA by seeking medical information from him and his doctor.  The ADA limits the ability of covered employers to investigate the health of their employees or to test their physical fitness.  Any medical testing or fitness requirements must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.  In this case, the 7th Circuit concluded that the request for medical information was permissible under the ADA due to the nature or the plaintiff's job and related safety concerns.  The 7th Circuit also agreed with the district court that the plaintiff failed to offer evidence that would support a finding that he was removed from the academy because of his actual or perceived disability:  "[w]e agree with the district court that the undisputed facts show that the decision to dismiss [plaintiff] from the Academy was based on his inability to give honest and consistent answers to straightforward and legitimate questions, not because of any actual or perceived physical impairment."