Scott Butler, a trooper with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, sued the State under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Butler claimed that the State regarded him as disabled in violation of the ADA by requiring him to submit to an excessive psychiatric fitness-for-duty evaluation, denying him overtime opportunities and placing him on involuntary leave. Butler claimed the Department based its decisions on perceived impairments – obsessive compulsive disorder and “germaphobia.”
During the litigation, the State submitted “discovery” requests seeking a wide variety of medical and psychological information about Butler. Among other things, the Department requested that that Butler list every medical provider treating him for psychiatric problems in the last ten years and copies of all medical records and reports from healthcare providers. When Butler objected to the requests, a federal court judge had to decide whether the ADA’s privacy provisions allowed the Department the right to access the records.
The judge decided in Butler’s favor. The Court started with the proposition that under the ADA, whether an individual is actually disabled is not relevant to a claim that an employer has illegally “regarded an employee as disabled.” The Court commented that “Butler is clear that he is only proceeding under the regarded as prong of the ADA. Butler also explained that he does not intend to present medical evidence beyond the information known to the Department at the time of the adverse employment actions. The Department need not explore Butler’s psychiatric history in order to defend against an allegation of perceived disability.”
The Department also argued that Butler was not qualified to perform his job safely without posing a direct threat to himself or others, and that Butler’s “psychiatric condition is the principal factual issue which is probative of whether Butler has a condition that renders him unable to perform the essential functions of his job.”
The Court disagreed, holding that “being ‘disabled’ and ‘qualified’ are not antithetical; both may actually be necessary elements of an ADA claim. Butler bears the burden of proving he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the position. Butler has clarified that he intends to offer his past performance evaluations as evidence that he can perform the job’s essential functions. More importantly, Butler explained that he did not intend to offer medical information.
“While the Court makes no finding of whether Butler is qualified, the Court notes that evidence of past performance is a recognized method of proving an individual is qualified under the ADA. Because Butler does not intend to present ancillary medical information, the requested medical records are irrelevant to this element of Butler’s prima facie case.
“The Department claims it based its decisions off of Butler’s behavior. However, the Department now seeks additional records that are subject to the psychotherapist-patient privilege to seemingly justify the reasons given for the previous employment actions. To establish their given reason for the evaluation, the Department must present evidence of the actual behavior exhibited by Butler and observed by the Department. The Department’s argument – that Butler’s records will show that he suffered from a psychiatric condition – is misguided. Butler might be diagnosed with a mental impairment. Butler might have also communicated with his doctor about his behavior. However, the fact that the diagnosis exists does nothing to illuminate the actual behavior observed by the Department that raised doubts about Butler’s qualifications.
“Any records the Department could obtain at this time could not have motivated its decisions at the moment they were made. As such, Butler’s medical records are not relevant.”
Butler v. Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, 2013 WL 2407567 (M.D. La. 2013).
The above article has appeared in a previous issue of Public Safety Labor News and has been reprinted courtesy of Labor Relations Information System. These articles are for informational purposes only.