EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.
ADA: Job Related and Consistent with Business Necessity / Direct Threat
March 16, 2001
This responds to your letters to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) Seattle District Office and Office of General Counsel. You asked whether the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination contain provisions for bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) defenses.
The EEOC enforces Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities on the basis of disability. A "qualified individual with a disability" is a person with a disability who meets all of a position's legitimate job requirements and can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.
As you noted, there is no BFOQ defense in the ADA. Accordingly, an employer may not defend a disability-based employment action by asserting that the absence of disability is a BFOQ. An employer, however, may assert other defenses under the ADA. For example, an employer may defend the use of a qualification standard that screens out an individual on the basis of disability by showing that the standard is job related and consistent with business necessity. In that respect, the employer must show that the standard is an accurate measure of the individual's ability to perform the essential functions of the position at issue. An employer may justify a safety-based standard by showing the existence of a direct threat, i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm that cannot be reduced or eliminated through reasonable accommodation.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission enforces the Washington State Law Against Discrimination. For information about that law, you may wish to contact the Commission at the following address:
Washington State Human Rights Commission
Melbourne Tower # 921
1511 Third Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98101-1626.
This has been an informal discussion of the issues you raised and does not constitute an official opinion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Further, our silence on other statements or analyses that may have been presented in your letter should not be construed as agreement with those matters.
Christopher J. Kuczynski
Assistant Legal Counsel
ADA Policy Division
This page was last modified on April 27, 2007.
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