The Doctor – Not The Employee – Defines Applicable Medical Restrictions.
An employer is entitled to rely upon the medical evaluation by a doctor over an employee’s own view as to his medical condition, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
In Gearhart v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Co., the employee was a casting operator whose job required him to enter into and clean a Kapton oven. He developed cardiac issues, and his cardiologist stated in a report that the employee should no longer work in the oven. The employee did not provide the report to his employer, but told human resources, a company nurse and a company doctor of his cardiologist’s recommendation – although he later denied doing so. The company doctor, based in part on this verbal communication from the employee, issued a permanent restriction from working in the oven. Because the employee was unable to perform this essential function, and there was no other position available that would allow him to avoid oven work, his employment was terminated. He then sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate.
The Sixth Circuit rejected his claims, finding that the employee was not qualified to perform the essential functions of his job. Although the employee disputed that he ever told the company that his cardiologist restricted him from going in the oven, the Company’s records from HR, the nurse, and the doctor all reflected this information. In addition, the employee’s own cardiologist’s report also stated this. There was simply nothing to credit the employee’s argument regarding what was told to the Company or his condition.
This case is helpful to employers as it demonstrates that the opinion of the employee’s doctor can be credited over the employee’s own determinations. It also reinforces the need for employer representatives to keep accurate and detailed records regarding discussions with the employee – in this case, the records clearly supported the employer’s position that the employee himself stated that his doctor would not permit him to work in the oven, and the employer was entitled to rely on such statements about the doctor’s opinion.