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12.12 ADA—Defenses—Direct Threat

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12.12 ADA—DEFENSES—DIRECT THREAT

It is a defense to the plaintiff's ADA claim if the plaintiff posed a direct threat to the health and safety of others [or if the requirements of the job would pose a direct threat to the plaintiff]. The defendant may require, as a qualification for the position, that an individual not pose a "direct threat" to the health or safety of [[others] [himself] [herself]] in the workplace. A health or safety risk can only be considered if it is a significant risk of substantial harm. Assessment of the existence of a direct threat must be based on valid and objective evidence and not speculation.

The defendant claiming the direct threat defense must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff posed a direct threat to the health or safety of [[others] [himself] [herself]] that could not be eliminated by a reasonable accommodation.

Factors that may be considered in determining whether an individual poses a direct threat to the health and safety of [[others] [himself] [herself]] are:

(1) the nature and severity of the potential harm;

(2) the duration of the potential harm;

(3) the imminence of the potential harm; and

(4) the probability of the harm occurring.

If you find that each of the elements on which the plaintiff has the burden of proof has been proved, your verdict should be for the plaintiff, unless you also find that the defendant has proved this affirmative defense, in which event your verdict should be for the defendant.

Comment

See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111(3) (defines direct threat), 12113(b) (provides that a qualification standard can include a condition that a person not pose a direct threat); School Bd. of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987) (claim under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), provides the criteria for what is considered a direct threat.)

This defense does apply when the direct threat is to the disabled individual. See Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Echazabal, 536 U.S. 73, 76–77 (2002) (recognizing the availability of the "direct threat" defense where toxins at an oil refinery would exacerbate plaintiff’s liver condition).