Personality Test Considered Medical Exam Subject to ADA Requirements

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            In a case of first impression, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (“MMPI”) is a “medical test," and therefore its use must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., 411 F.3d 831 (7th Cir. 2005). In making its decision, the court noted that the ADA limits the ability of employers to use “medical examinations and inquiries” as a condition of employment if they lack job relatedness and business necessity. Further, pre-employment medical examinations are generally not permitted.

            In this case, Rent-A-Center (“RAC”) claimed the MMPI test was not a “medical examination,” but was merely used to measure personality traits of employees being considered for promotion. For instance, RAC did not use a psychologist or medical doctor to interpret the results, and said it was not screening for mental illness.

            In considering RAC’s claim, the court relied on the EEOC’s definition of “medical examination.” Factors the EEOC considers in evaluating whether a particular test is a “medical examination” include: whether the test is administered or interpreted by a health care professional; whether it is designed to reveal an impairment of physical or mental health; whether the test is invasive or normally given in a medical setting using medical equipment; or whether it measures an employee’s performance of a task or physiological responses to performing the task.

            In applying the definition, the court differentiated between psychological tests that are designed to identify a mental disorder or impairment and those that measure personality traits such as honesty, preferences or habits. In rejecting RAC’s characterization of the MMPI as purely a measurement of personality traits, the court found the test was used by RAC to reveal mental health impairments and weed out applicants with certain disorders. As a result, the test had the effect of hurting the employment prospects of those with mental disabilities, fell within the definition of a “medical exam,” and violated the ADA because the company failed to show any job relatedness or business necessity for the test.

            While the decision applies only to employers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, organizations wishing to continue using the MMPI should determine if they can prove a job related necessity for administering it as other courts may find the Seventh Circuit’s reasoning persuasive. In addition, employers using tests similar to the MMPI should review the findings in this case and make sure they can withstand judicial scrutiny, if necessary.

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