Federal Court Rules Boston Police Department Violated Federal Law With Policy Mandating Psych Exams for All Officers Returning from Extended Leave

March 25, 2022

Judge Denise Casper of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts ruled that the City of Boston’s mandatory psychiatric exams of police officers returning from extended leave (six months or more) violates the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Attorney Patrick Bryant represented the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, one of three union parties to the lawsuit. The lawsuit was largely guided by counsel for the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association.

The ADA regulates and restricts the use of physical and mental examinations by employers for applicants and current employees. It prohibits, for instance, "a medical examination" or even "inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” Whereas an employer likely would not violate the ADA by inquiring as to the injury for which an officer was out on leave, the Boston Police Department here mandated that all officers submit to a psychiatric examination if absent for six months or more, regardless of the reason for the absence. These absences could be because of pregnancy, injury or other non-mental health reasons. The absences also could be unrelated to the officer's own health, such as military leave or to care for the health of a family member.

The Judge determined that the BPD failed to show that this blanket psychiatric exam requirement, regardless of reasons for absence, was consistent with a "business necessity." "[]BPD’s policy applies to all officers returning from an extended leave, even where there are no specific concerns about an individual’s ability to perform their job duties, (stating that BPD required [officers] to undergo psychological examinations even though there were no concerns about the officers’ mental fitness).... Additionally, BPD has failed to present any evidence to establish that being on leave for three months or six months causes increased risk for physical and/or psychological conditions, respectively, that could negatively impact an officer’s job performance." Her ruling does not restrict BPD from requiring psychiatric inquiries of specific officers based upon particularized information (such as confirming an officer recovered from a mental health-related absence).

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