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By: Darcy L. Proctor

Recently, in Christopher See v. Illinois Gaming Board, 2022 WL 831601, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a federal lawsuit alleging First Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Plaintiff Christopher See is a law-enforcement officer for the Illinois Gaming Board, a state agency tasked with regulating gambling in Illinois. In his capacity as a union representative, the Plaintiff began voicing concern over the Board’s promotion policies, claiming that State Police employees were given unfair advantages over Gaming Board employees.

After expressing concerns to the Board’s labor-relations liaison, the Plaintiff began to exhibit signs of paranoia, complaining that his supervisor was spreading malicious rumors about him in an effort to intimidate and scare him. When this odd behavior continued, management became concerned about Plaintiff’s mental stability and placed him on administrative leave pending an examination of his fitness-for-duty. A few weeks later, Plaintiff passed the examination and returned to work.

Plaintiff then filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Board and several of its officials retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech and discriminated against him in violation of the ADA, by requiring him to undergo a medical examination without a job-related justification.

The Court rejected Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim because the Board offered a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for placing him on leave and requiring a fitness-for-duty examination. Specifically, the Court found that the Board presented evidence to demonstrate they were genuinely concerned about the Plaintiff’s mental health based on his persistent odd behavior. The Court also rejected Plaintiff’s discrimination claim finding that because he was an armed law-enforcement officer, the possibility of mental instability posed a serious public safety concern. As such, the fitness-for-duty examination was job-related and consistent with business necessity, as required by the ADA.

For more information about this article or advice regarding fitness-for-duty exams involving public-safety employees, contact Tressler attorney Darcy L. Proctor at dproctor@tresslerllp.com.