Summary: A man in Florida claims that asking candidates about their mental health history as part of admission to the Bar violates the ADA.
The State Bar asking candidates about their Mental Health issues before admission is a controversial practice. However, despite the numerous op-eds calling for the end of this alleged discriminatory practice, the questions haven’t gone away…Yet. But perhaps, a new lawsuit filed in Florida will get one state thinking.
According to FloridaPolitics.com, “John Doe” filed a discrimination lawsuit in Tallahassee in October, claiming that it was illegal for the Florida Board of Bar Examiners to ask candidates about their mental health history. Currently, the Florida Board asks whether applicants to the Bar have a history of Mental Health Issues or substance abuse in the past five years, and they ask if candidates have taken any medications for their problems. The plaintiff claimed that these questions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Board in Florida as well as other states ask these types of questions in order to determine a candidate’s ability to competently practice law. This is part of the “character and fitness” portion of the Bar application, and this section is designed to weed out people with a demonstrated track record of harmful behavior. However, critics say that this practice unfairly stigmatizes people with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.; even if they are receiving treatment and are in no way a danger to themselves or others. In some cases, aspiring lawyers may not seek treatment in order to avoid their problems disclosing to their state, and this causes more issues in the legal community down the line. For instance, studies have shown that one in three lawyers suffer from anxiety and alcoholism, a statistic higher than every other profession.
John Doe applied for the Florida Bar in 2015, after already working as a licensed attorney in Wisconsin and Arizona for 15 years. He stated that during his Florida bar admission application he was asked to provide “embarrassing” mental health treatment records from ten years ago. The plaintiff admitted that he was a recovering alcoholic who suffered from depression, but he said that he was clean and sober since 2005. He stated that he was told by the Florida Board that if he did not submit his medical records than his application for admission would be withdrawn.
John Doe’s case is similar to the investigation already pending by the Department of Justice. In 2014, the DOJ told states to stop violating the ADA by requesting mental health records. The DOJ said that the probe into candidates’ mental health background has nothing to do with their actual behavior and was therefore unnecessary and discriminatory.
Source: Florida Politics
Photo courtesy of Wall Street Journal
Do you think asking mental health questions should be allowed as part of admission to the State Bar? Let us know in the comments below.