Ninth Circuit Ruling on History of Mental Disability

History of Mental Disability Cannot Permanently Disqualify Applicant - January, 2006

A recent Ninth Circuit decision may affect an employer's ability to use criminal history to screen applicants.  In 1982, the plaintiff in this case was found not guilty of a murder charge, by reason of insanity.  Though he was asked to do so on the application form, he did not disclose his criminal history at the time he was hired at Pacific Bell in 1997.  The Company discovered his criminal history by other means, and fired him from his job that required him to enter customer homes.

The Court determined that the plaintiff had been discriminated against on the basis of a past mental impairment, which had since been cured.  The Court upheld the jury award of $500,000.

The Company may have been more successful focusing solely on the fact that the plaintiff had been dishonest on his job application, assuming such a policy is consistently enforced.  In light of this decision, employers should note that criminal convictions, especially those related to mental illness, may not be sufficient grounds to disqualify an applicant from consideration.  Applicants should be given an opportunity to clarify the context of the conviction, as well as interim treatment and current mental health status.


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