Monday, December 7, 2009

Golfer tests limits of ADA and performance enhancing drugs

Last month, Doug Barron became the first golfer suspended by the PGA for failing a drug test. Shortly thereafter, he sued the PGA, claiming that his suspension violated the ADA. Specifically, he claimed that the PGA failed to accommodate his use of medications –  beta blockers to treat a heart condition and synthetic male hormone to treat a low testosterone count.

According to, a federal magistrate has preliminarily rejected Barron’s claim that his low testosterone level qualifies as a disability protected by the ADA. Under the amended ADA, major life activities include “the operation of major bodily functions, including … reproductive functions.” Likely, a low testosterone count qualifies an ADA-protected disability. Thus, I would argue that a low testosterone count actually does qualify as a protected disability.

Under the new ADA, however, the issue of what qualifies as a disability will seldom be litigated. Most physical and mental impairments will qualify as disabilities. Instead, the focus of the inquiry in disability discrimination litigation will be whether the employee is qualified – whether he or she can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

On the issue of drug testing in professional sports, I would argue that it is essential that all athletes perform on the same level without artificial enhancement. For instance, testosterone promotes muscle mass and strength and beta blockers reduce anxiety and sharpen focus. Thus, I would argue that whether an athlete’s condition qualifies as a disability is irrelevant, because he or she cannot perform there is no accommodation that would allow the taking of performance enhancers (even if used medicinally).

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