Pre-Employment Personality Testing May Violate the ADA

Grace Horoupian
October 17, 2005 — 3,105 views  
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The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has recently ruled that an employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it used a personality test on prospective managers. In Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, Inc. (2005 WL 1389443), the employer required prospective managers to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a test that the employer said was used to measure personality traits. However, the MMPI is often used to help diagnose mental disorders such as depression, hypochondriasis, hysteria, paranoia and mania.


The ADA limits the ability of employers to use “medical examinations and inquiries” as a condition of employment as follows:

  • Prohibits the use of pre-employment medical tests;
  • Prohibits the use of medical tests that are not job-related or have no business necessity;
  • Prohibits tests that are used to screen out people with disabilities.


The Seventh Circuit stated that the issue in the case was whether the MMPI fits the ADA’s definition of a “medical examination.” The EEOC defines “medical examination” as a “procedure or test that seeks information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides the following factors to consider in determining whether a particular test is a “medical examination”:

  • Whether the test is administered by a health care professional;
  • Whether the test is interpreted by a health care professional;
  • Whether the test is designed to reveal an impairment of physical or mental health;
  • Whether the test is invasive;
  • Whether the test measures an employee’s performance of a task or measures his/her physiological responses to performing the task;
  • Whether the test normally is given in a medical setting; and
  • Whether medical equipment is used.


The court indicated that even one factor may be enough to determine that a procedure or test is medical. After considering the EEOC factors, the court concluded that because the MMPI is designed, at least in part, to reveal mental illness and has the effect of hurting the employment prospects of one with a mental disability, the MMPI is best categorized as a medical examination. The court further stated that the fact that a psychologist did not interpret the MMPI is not dispositive.


This ruling should make employers cautious of personality tests. Employers who use such tests should consult with employment counsel.


Grace Horoupian

Kutak Rock LLP