Tuesday, October 18, 2016

8th Circuit: Trucking Company's Requirement That Drivers with High BMI Submit to Sleep Study Does Not Violate ADA

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently held that a trucking company who subjected one of its truck drivers to a sleep study to see if he had obstructive sleep apnea because he had a body mass index ("BMI") over 35, did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), nor did it discriminate against the plaintiff, Robert J. Parker ("Parker"), when he was terminated for refusing to take a sleep study.

                                                                           FACTS

The defendant, Crete Carrier Corporation ("Crete") hired Parker as an over-the-road truck driver in 2006.  As a driver of a commercial motor vehicle for a motor carrier, Parker was bound by regulations issued by the USDOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  In 2010, Crete began a sleep apnea program based primarily on recommendations from two advisory committees.  The program required drivers at risk for obstructive sleep apnea to undergo in-lab sleep studies.  Crete required an in-lab sleep study if either (1) the driver's BMI was 35 or above, or (2) the driver's physician recommended a sleep study.  At parker's most recent DOT physical, his BMI was over 35.

In July 2013, Parker visited a certified physician not affiliated with Crete who wrote a prescription stating, in whole, "I do not feel it is medically necessary for Robert to have a sleep study."  Parker then refused to participate in a sleep study and then Crete took Parker out of service.  Parker then sued Crete alleging it required a medical examination violating 42 U.S.C. section 12112(d)(4)(A) and discriminated against him because it regarded him as having a disability, violating 42 U.S.C. section 12112(a).

                                 CRETE'S SLEEP STUDY DID NOT VIOLATE THE ADA

The ADA prohibits employers from "requiring a medical examination ... unless such examination ... is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity."  When an employer requires a medical exam of its employees, the employer has the burden of showing that the exam is job-related and that "the asserted 'business necessity' is vital to the business and the request for a medical examination or inquiry is no broader or more intrusive than necessary."  "[C]ourts will readily find a business necessity if an employer can demonstrate ... a medical examination or inquiry is necessary to determine ... whether the employee can perform job-related duties when the employer can identify legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to doubt the employee's capacity to perform his or her duties."  "The examination or inquiry need not be the only way to achieve a business necessity, but it must be a reasonably effective method to achieve the employer's goals." 

Parker argued that Crete failed to consider his individual characteristics before mandating the sleep study.  However, the Court held that the text of the ADA (section 12112(d)(4)(A)) does not require this, and, to the contrary, the ADA permits employers to require a CLASS of employees to get medical exams.  When an employer does this, they meet their burden by showing a "reasonable basis for concluding" that the class poses a genuine safety risk and the exam requirement allows the employer to decrease that risk effectively.  Crete met this burden as its required class--drivers with BMIs of 35 or above--had to submit to an in-lab sleep study, a medical exam. 

The Court found that, by their undisputed facts, the sleep study requirement is job-related because it deals with a condition that impairs drivers' abilities to operate their vehicles and it is consistent with business necessity because it is necessary to determine whether an individual has obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that poses a public safety hazard by increasing the risk of motor vehicle accidents.  Furthermore, the Court held Crete had reasons to suspect that Parker had sleep apnea because of his BMI being over 35.

    CRETE DID NOT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST PARKER WHEN IT TERMINATED HIM

The Court also found that Crete did not discriminate against Parker based upon perceived disability because of his failure to submit to a lawful sleep study for the reasons previously mentioned, which serves as a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for his termination.

For all of these reasons, the 8th Circuit upheld the District Court's grant of summary judgment, dismissing all of Parker's claims.  The case is Robert J. Parker v. Crete Carrier Corporation, No. 16-1371 (8th Cir. Oct. 12, 2016).

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