Sjöstrand v. The Ohio St. Univ. (6th Cir. 4/28/14) [pdf] is an ADA case, but not an employment case. It involves a graduate school applicant claiming that OSU denied her admission because of her Crohn’s disease. In support of her claim, Sjöstrand pointed to her admission interview, during which she claimed each interviewer spent about half of their time discussing her Crohn’s disease. She claimed that because she tied for the highest GPA in the applicant pool, and her GRE scores exceeded the school’s requirements, her disability was the only rational explanation for her rejection.
The 6th Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal of Sjöstrand’s ADA claim:
Yet according to Sjöstrand’s testimony … neither of her interviewers even mentioned any of the putative reasons why her application was rejected, and each interviewer instead devoted about half the interview to a discussion of her Crohn’s disease. The resulting inference is that the interviewers’ real concern—and thus the reason they rejected Sjöstrand’s application—was her Crohn’s disease.
OSU could have perfectly legal reasons for rejecting Sjöstrand’s application. In fact, the school listed five different reasons. However, as this case demonstrates, the questioning about her medical condition during the interview tainted the entire process.
In the employment context, it is per se illegal to make any disability-related inquiries before you make a conditional job offer. If you ask medical questions during a job interview, you have violated the ADA whether or not you ultimately hire the individual. If you don’t hire the individual, those illegal questions will likely taint your hiring process beyond the point of no recovery.
It behooves you to communicate this message to anyone who interviews for you. Even though Sjöstrand is not an employment case, it’s a great illustration of what can go wrong when an employer interjects an applicant’s medical issues into the interview process.