Court Rules Plastic Mold Maker Unlawfully Used Results of Post-Offer Medical Exam, Falsely Regarding New Hire With Old Back Injury as Disabled
TAMPA, Fla. - In an order issued late Wednesday afternoon, a federal judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that a Clearwater, Fla.-based company, American Tool & Mold, Inc. (ATM), violated federal disability discrimination law by withdrawing a job offer because of the applicant's old back injury. ATM designs and manufactures injection molds for plastics.
According to the EEOC's suit, ATM made a provisional job offer to Michael Matanic as a process engineer, pending a health release. The company conducted a post-offer medical examination which revealed that Matanic had a successful back surgery six years prior for which he could not provide a medical release indicating he had no restrictions. After ATM's post-offer medical examination provider, Lakeside Occupational Medical Clinic, learned this, it refused to perform a back screen and complete Matanic's physical examination. ATM, falsely regarding Matanic as disabled, withdrew the job offer and terminated his employment. In the meantime, Matanic actually performed the job at ATM for two months while he attempted to obtain the requested medical release. At the time of his termination, Matanic was in good health and had a recent medical examination showing that he had no physical limitations on his ability to perform his job.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit against ATM in December 2012 (Case No. 8:12-cv-2772, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Federal District Judge Mary S. Scriven explained in her 32-page order that ATM regarded Matanic as disabled when it required him to provide the medical release simply because of his prior back surgery, and that ATM never conducted an individualized assessment in order to determine whether Matanic could perform the essential functions of the position. Judge Scriven reasoned that ATM "cannot rely on 'myths and fears' regarding whether a back surgery performed years earlier might 'place ATM at risk of potential liability and possibly cause harm or irreparable harm to Matanic,' because that is precisely what the ADA generally, and the 'regarded as' prong specifically, were designed to prevent."
The court further determined that ATM's failure to conduct an individualized assessment of Mr. Matanic's abilities also foreclosed the possibility of screening him out because he posed a "significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by a reasonable accommodation."
Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC's Miami District Office said, "While employers may conduct post-offer medical examinations to assess an individual's ability to perform the essential functions of the job, the judge is absolutely right that they may not rely on myths, fears or stereotypes about an individual's medical history. They must make individualized assessment of the person's current abilities when making employment decisions."
Miami District Director Malcolm Medley added, "This decision emphasizes the importance of employers making sure that they are aware of their obligations under federal law, and ensuring that their policies and those of any medical providers they rely on are consistent with the ADA and other federal laws as well."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information about the Commission is available at www.eeoc.gov.