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Court Finds Physical Capacity Test Is Grounds for Lawsuit

Source: Business Insurance

Posted on 29 Sep 2009

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An appellate circuit court has ruled that Georgia-Pacific Corp. can be sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by applying a physical capacity evaluation to an injured employee returning to work.

The ruling in Kris Indergard vs. Georgia-Pacific Corp. overturns a trial court ruling that the employer's physical capacity evaluation was not a medical exam under the ADA. Under the ADA, an employer may not require an employee to undergo a medical exam unless the exam “is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity,” according to the opinion.

Indergard took a medical leave from her Georgia-Pacific mill job in 2003 to undergo knee surgery for injuries that were both work-related and non-work-related, court documents show. In 2005, her doctor authorized her return to work.

But Georgia-Pacific required employees to participate in a physical capacity evaluation before returning to work from medical leave. The evaluation showed Indergard could not meet the physical demands of her previous position. No other positions were available, so she was terminated under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

Indergard sued, alleging the physical capacity evaluation was an improper medical exam, but the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Georgia-Pacific.

The appeals court overturned, finding that while the purpose of the exam may have been to determine whether Indergard was capable of returning to work, “the substance of the (exam), however, clearly sought information about (her) physical or mental impairments or health and involved tests and inquiries capable of revealing to Georgia-Pacific whether she suffered from a disability.”

Therefore, the physical capacity evaluation was a medical exam under the law, the appeals court said. The court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.