Under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer may not ask an employee to undergo a medical test or inquire about a disability unless it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” However, how this prohibition relates to mental health evaluations has been unclear.
In a precedential case, Kroll v. White Lake Ambulance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that a mental exam is treated the same as a physical exam under the ADA if it is designed to elicit information about mental-health defects.
In the case, Emily Kroll was employed by White Lake as an EMT. She was considered a good employee for many years until she became romantically involved with a coworker. After the relationship began, Kroll’s supervisor began receiving reports questioning Kroll’s behavior.
Kroll was ordered to undergo psychological counseling “to discuss issues related to her mental health” and to release her records to her supervisor so the company could monitor her attendance. Kroll said she would attend counseling.
A few days later, Kroll was summoned to a meeting with her supervisor. A fellow employee had reported an incident, during which Kroll was screaming on the telephone while driving an ambulance. The ambulance was carrying a patient at the time and was operating on an emergency status, with lights and sirens on. Kroll was informed that the company was concerned about her ability to do her job and that she must attend counseling to continue working.
Kroll said she would not attend the counseling. She left the meeting and did not return to work. Kroll would later testify that she wanted to attend the counseling sessions but did not have the funds. She said that she would have gone had the company agreed to pay for the treatment.
Kroll filed a lawsuit against White Lake claiming a violation of the ADA. Kroll argued that she was fired for refusing to undergo a medical exam. The district court found that psychological evaluation is not a medical exam under the ADA. Kroll appealed.
The appeals court found that the counseling requested by the company would be considered a medical exam under the ADA because it could be construed as an attempt to uncover mental-health defects. In the written opinion of the case, the court noted that “this uncovering of mental-health defects at an employer’s direction is the precise harm that [the ADA] is designed to prevent absent a demonstrated job-related business necessity.”
The court did not explore whether the counseling was a job-related business necessity in this case. Instead, the court remanded the case so a lower court could make that determination.