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11th Cir: Coke Compliant With the ADA

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By Betty Wang, JD on June 04, 2013 4:06 PM

Last month, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling that The Coca-Cola Company (Coke) was in compliance with a provision of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and employee-employment policy when they placed the plaintiff employee Franklin Owusu-Ansah on a paid leave of absence and required that he undergo a psychiatric/psychological fitness-for-duty evaluation.

Franklin Owusu-Ansah was first employed by Coke in 1999 and consented to a request and recommendation that he take paid time off to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation. He then alleged that Coke was in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A), a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which reads:

“… covered entity shall not require a medical examination and shall not make inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

After Owusu-Ansah displayed a series of questionable behaviors, including accusing many of his coworkers, supervisors, and managers of discriminating him based on the fact taht he was from Ghana, Coke called into question his mental state. Even more concern was raised when Owusu-Ansah not only made the accusations, but banged his fist on the table, stating that someone was “going to pay for this.”

A contracted psychologist advised the fitness evaluation, making clinical notes of possible delusion. Owusu-Ansah undersent the evaluation but then neglected to attend a following personally assessment. Coke then notified him that this would be read as a voluntary resignation. Owusu-Ansah then complied, passed, and returned to his job in April 2008.

Under their analysis, the Court first looked at the ADA provision and found that it did not necessarily only apply to those who were disabled, but all employees.

Then, they evaluated what the terms within the provision read when it said “job-related” and “consistent with business necessity.” They went on to pull from their opinion in Allmond v. Akal Sec., Inc., wherein they stated that “job-relatedness is used in analyzing the questions or subject matter contained in a test or criteria used by an employer” as a basis for an employment decision, while “[b]usiness necessity, in context, is larger in scope and analyzes whether there is a business reason that makes necessary the use by an employer of a test or criteria.”

The court also noted that under Watson v. City of Miami Beach, a police department was allowed to require a fitness-for-duty exam whenever they reasonably believed an officer to be “even mildly paranoid, hostile, or oppositional.”

The Eleventh Circuit ruled that summary judgment was proper, because Coke had demonstrated a reasonable, objective concern about Owusu-Ansah’s mental state and listed the instances where there was reasonable cause for concern.

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