In Brownfield v. City of Yakima, (— F.3d —-, C.A.9 (Wash.), July 27, 2010), the United States Court of Appeals considered whether a city violated a police officer’s rights under the Americans With Disability Act (“ADA”) and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) when it required him to undergo a Fitness For Duty Exam (“FFDE”) after he repeatedly exhibited emotionally volatile behavior on the job that may have stemmed from head injuries sustained in a car accident. The court ruled that the city’s actions did not violate the officer’s rights because his behavior, and the dangerous and stressful nature of his job, gave the city reasonable cause to question his ability to serve as a police officer.
Oscar Brownfield began working as a police officer for the City of Yakima, Washington (“City”) Police Department (“Department”) in 1999. In 2000, he suffered head injuries in an off-duty car accident. After recovering, he returned to active duty in 2001. He received positive performance evaluations in the three years that followed.
In 2005, Brownfield began to exhibit what the Department would describe as emotionally volatile behavior. Also in 2005, Brownfield suffered minor injuries in another off-duty car accident. After he recovered, his primary care physician signed a release stating that he could perform the physical duties of his job. The Department ordered Brownfield to undergo an FFDE, and the examining physician diagnosed him as suffering from “Mood Disorder due to a General Medical Condition with mixed features,” that manifested itself in “poor judgment, emotional volatility, and irritability.” In 2006, the Department informed Brownfield it would hold a pre-termination hearing with respect to his employment. He was found unfit for duty and terminated in 2007.
Brownfield filed suit against the City in federal court alleging violations of the ADA and FMLA.
Brownfield alleged that the City violated a section of the ADA that states an employer may not require a medical examination to determine if an employee is disabled “unless such examination or injury is shown to be job related and consistent with business necessity.”
Citing Cripe v. City of San Jose, 261 F.3d 877 (9th Cir. 2001), the court stated that the “business necessity” standard is met if the employer “is faced with significant evidence that could cause a reasonable person to inquire as to whether an employee is still capable of performing his job.” The court added that “there must be genuine reason to doubt” whether the employee can perform job-related functions.
Here, the facts showed that the City had an objective, legitimate basis to doubt Brownfield’s ability to perform the duties of a police officer. He exhibited highly emotional responses on numerous occasions. His “repeated volatile responses,” combined with the stressful and dangerous nature of his employment as a police officer, provided the City reasonable cause to question Brownfield’s ability to serve as a police officer. The court ruled the FFDE did not violate his rights under the ADA.
Similarly, the court concluded the City did not violate the FMLA because even though he had a physician’s opinion stating that he had recovered from his 2005 injuries, no reasonable juror could misread that opinion as stating that Brownfield had recovered from the psychological issues that rendered him unfit for duty.
The district court’s judgment in favor of the City was affirmed.
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