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EEOC finds Administrative Judge erred, vacates FAD and finds in favor of federal employee. Complainant was employed as a distribution window clerk at the Agency’s facility when she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of disability (major depressive disorder and work-related stress). Complainant took sick leave from her position for a total of 4 months and was hospitalized on four different occasions during this period. Upon her return to work, Complainant presented the Agency with a note giving her medical clearance to return to work, noting that she had received treatment and should be able to return to work unconditionally and without future problems. The Agency informed Complainant that the doctor’s note was insufficient, and that she needed to bring a note stating her diagnosis, treatment, future treatment and prognosis, and that her appointment with Agency physician had been cancelled. After intervention with the union involving a fitness-for-duty examination, Complainant was cleared for work and found to have no limitations or restrictions, but requested “an hour or so” of leave each month for therapy or doctor’s appointments. During the hearing, the Administrative Judge (AJ) found that Complainant had a mental impairment, but at the time she gave the Agency her note she had no impairment. The AJ further found that even assuming the Complainant had established she had an impairment, she presented no medical evidence to show that the impairment substantially limited any of her major life activities. Finally, the AJ found that Complainant was not regarded as or perceived as having a disability. In its Final Agency Decision (FAD), the Agency adopted the AJ’s decision, and Complainant appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

On appeal, the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations (OFO) found that the AJ erred in finding that since the Complainant was not an individual with a disability it was unnecessary to consider the merits of Complainant’s allegations, noting that any employee- including an employee without a disability- has the right to challenge a disability-related inquiry or request for medical examination. Employers may make disability-related inquiries as long as they are job-related and consistent with business necessity, which generally means an employer has a reasonable belief that an employee’s ability to perform an essential job function will be impaired by a medical condition or the employee will pose a direct threat due to said condition. The OFO noted that it is the employer’s burden to show such inquiries are job-related and consistent with business necessity, and the AJ should have assessed whether the Agency’s request for a doctor’s letter and fitness for duty examination were job-related and consistent with business necessity. The OFO further held that the question of whether the Complainant was a qualified individual with a disability relies on the answer to the question regarding medical inquiries. As a result, the OFO vacated the FAD and remanded the matter to determine the answer to these issues.

Courtney v. United States Postal Service, EEOC 01981316 (June 12, 2001) https://www.eeoc.gov/sites/default/files/migrated_files/decisions/01981316.txt