The Americans with Disabilities Act is not an affirmative action law. Employers are not required to waive basic job requirements if the applicant or employee is unable to perform them due to a disabling medical condition. This basic principle was affirmed in a recent Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejecting ADA claims by a medical resident unable to pass licensing requirements.
In Rodrigo v. Carle Foundation Hosp., the employer required residents to pass three stages of medical licensing before progressing to the third year of residency. The third test is required to practice medicine in the U.S., and the hospital’s policy terminates the resident if he or she fails this stage twice, although some states allow more failures before disqualifying a candidate. The plaintiff failed the first two stages of the exam once before passing. He then failed stage three twice but attributed the failures to his medical condition. The hospital allowed him to sit for the exam a third time, which he also failed, resulting in his resignation in lieu of discharge from the residency program.
The plaintiff then sued the hospital, seeking reinstatement on the basis that his failure resulted from discrimination and failure to accommodate his medical condition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court concluded that the plaintiff was not qualified under the ADA to perform the essential functions of the position because he was unable to pass an examination required for medical licensing. Refusal by the hospital to allow unlimited attempts at the test did not constitute discrimination or retaliation. It simply recognized that he was unable to perform the job.
This case demonstrates that employers can rely on licensing and similar job qualifications to refuse employment to a disabled person unable to meet these requirements. While the employer may need to consider reasonable accommodations to allow the disabled person to seek licensure, it will not be required to waive these requirements.