State News : New Jersey

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New Jersey



Sometimes alarming statements made at work justify a fitness examination.  In the case ofBarnum v. The Ohio State University Medical Center, 2016 App. LEXIS 2957 (6th Cir. 2016), the plaintiff worked as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.  In 2011, she was having issues at home due to a divorce and other family matters.  A co-employee advised her supervisor that Barnum said, “…maybe I’d be better off (if) I wasn’t here, maybe I should just put a gun to my head, maybe I should just not be here.”

An anesthesiologist at the hospital also became concerned about Barnum’s ability to concentrate on taking care of patients.  A surgeon had to ask her twice to raise a patient’s operating table because Barnum was not paying attention.  When the surgeon got her attention, Barnum said words to the effect that “I’m not worth anything or I’m worthless, what good does it do or what difference does it make, why should I even be here, maybe I should do everybody a favor and not be around.”  For her part, Barnum denied ever having this specific conversation with this doctor, but she did admit to being unable to adjust the height of the operating table and becoming frustrating and tearful.

Several doctors at the hospital became concerned about possible suicidal risk, leading the hospital to place Barnum on sick time leave for one to two weeks in October 2011. The hospital requested a fitness-for-duty examination with a psychiatrist.  Barnum was concerned about doing this in part because her husband worked as a case manager for the OSU mental health department and he might see the medical records. Eventually Barnum saw a psychiatrist, Dr. Masterson, on November 16, 2011.  The hospital wanted to make sure that this psychiatrist spoke with one of the physicians from the hospital who was aware of some of the comments that had been made at work. 

 Dr. Masterson prepared her report, which Barnum delivered on February 22, 2012.  In that report the doctor stated that Barnum was fit for duty and always had been.  However, the doctor had not spoken with the key physicians at the hospital, so the hospital would not allow Barnum to return to work. Barnum filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission in April 2012 because she was not being permitted to return to work.   Eventually, Barnum signed an authorization allowing Dr. Masterson to speak with two doctors at the hospital about her behavior and comments at work.  On July 31, 2012 Barnum presented a second medical report from Dr. Masterson stating that the conversations with the doctors did not change her opinion:  Barnum remained fit for duty.

On November 9, 2012, Barnum was reinstated to her position.  She then sued for discrimination on the basis of disability.  She argued that OSU violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring her to undergo a medical examination that was not job related.   The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed:

An employer may request a medical examination when ‘there is significant evidence that could cause a reasonable person to inquire as to whether the employee is still capable of performing her job… The burden is on the defendants in this case to show that the required mental-health evaluations were ‘job-related and consistent with business necessity.’

The Court said that in this case there were numerous and legitimate concerns about whether Barnum could perform job tasks and concentrate at work.  The hospital had been informed that Barnum had made a comment suggesting suicidal thoughts. “These circumstances constitute significant evidence that would cause a reasonable person to inquire whether the employee is still capable of performing her job.”  The Court therefore dismissed plaintiff’s law suit.


John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group.  Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at