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Employer Which Discovered Material Misrepresentations Years Later On Post-Offer Form Properly Terminated Employee For Dishonesty

By on May 16, 2013 in ADA with 0 Comments

Many employers utilize post-offer medical examinations as part of their hiring process to screen out potential employees who cannot perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.  Sometimes, however, the value of a post-offer medical examination does not come to light until long after hiring.

 In Reilly v. Lehigh Valley Hospital, 27 AD Cases 1189 (3d Cir. 2013), the plaintiff, Robert Reilly, was hired in August 2006 as a part-time Security Officer for LVH.  He received a conditional offer of employment in August 2006 and signed a six-page employee health information form.  The final two questions on the form asked, “Have you ever been recognized as or diagnosed with alcoholism or drug addiction?  Have you ever been or are you now being treated for alcoholism or drug addiction?  . . . If so, specify type of treatment.”

Reilly responded in the negative to both questions.  He did not answer a follow-up question that requested the type of treatment he received.  A handwritten note beneath the questions read:  “denies drug/alcohol addiction.”

On April 4, 2008, Reilly finished his work shift at LVH and was admitted to the Emergency Room to receive treatment for a work-related eye injury. Reilly disclosed to the treating physician that he had a history of narcotics use and was a recovering drug addict.  Following that visit, the ER sent a report to the LVH Employee Health Services Department, which in turn notified the LVH Human Resources Department that Reilly had not been candid on his post-offer employment form in 2006.

On May 2, 2008, LVH terminated Reilly’s employment advising him that the hospital considered his failure to disclose his addiction and alcoholism as dishonesty.  Reilly then sued in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.  He alleged his firing was disability-based discrimination.

During his deposition, Reilly admitted that he was a recovering alcoholic and narcotics addict.  He was still attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sessions and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) sessions.  He further admitted that he had attended 40 hours of programs at a drug and alcohol treatment facility (Livengren) as a consequence of a conviction for driving under the influence in 1995. He did not consider his time in the program to be treatment because it was mandated by the court and he experienced no change in his substance abuse behavior resulting from the program.

The District Court granted summary judgment to LVH, dismissing Reilly’s law suit, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.  It said, “Reilly’s belief that he answered the pertinent inquiries truthfully is not the determinative factor.  The question is whether the decision maker at LVH could regard Reilly’s responses as dishonest.  The answer to that question is resoundingly, “yes.”  The court noted that Reilly admitted in his deposition that he received 40 hours of drug and alcohol addiction treatment and that he still attended AA and NA meetings.

Given this undisputed evidence, Reilly’s bare assertion that he completed the Employment Form truthfully because he believed the purpose of the treatment at Livengrin (the program) was to resolve his DUI charge, not treat his addictions, is insufficient ‘to permit a factfinder either to disbelieve LVH’s articulated reasons, or to conclude that discrimination on account of disability was the real reason’ for Reilly’s termination.

The court therefore affirmed the dismissal of Reilly’s suit.  The court did not decide the issue of whether it was improper for LVH to disclose Reilly’s medical records to the Human Resources Department after his visit to the ER because Reilly failed to raise that in the trial below.

It is important to note that the termination in this case was for dishonesty on the post-offer medical examination form.  The court did not question that Reilly was protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act from discrimination on the basis of alcoholism or drug addiction.  The issue was simply whether the employer had a right to terminate an employee who had misrepresented the truth in the post-offer process, and that answer to that question was affirmative.

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This blog article was researched and written by John H. Geaney, Esq., a member of the executive committee and equity partner at the law firm of Capehart Scatchard. The content of the this article is intended to provide general information on the topic presented, and is offered with the understanding that the author is not rendering any legal or professional services or advice. This article is not a substitute for legal advice. Should you require such services, retain competent legal counsel.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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