Seyfarth Synopsis: In an ADA action alleging that a maker of train components discriminated against a group of applicants by regarding them as disabled, a federal district court in Illinois granted the EEOC's partial motion for summary judgment, holding that the company's decision to deny them work was based on improper tests concerning prospective injuries.
Employers should keep this ruling on their radar when considering medical testing in the job application process.
In EEOC v. Amsted Rail Co., No. 3:14-CV-1292, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 189713 (S.D. Ill. Nov. 16, 2017), Amsted made conditional job offers to thirty-nine applicants (the "Claimants") for chipper positions, but placed them on medical hold because of abnormal results from a nerve conduction test ("NCT"). Id. at *2-6. The EEOC argued that Amsted violated the ADA by not hiring the Claimants on the basis of disability in regards to job application procedures and hiring. Id. at *7-8. Amsted justified its refusal to hire the Claimants by asserting there was a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome ("CTS") for those with abnormal NCT results. After both parties cross-moved for summary judgment, Judge J. Phil Gilbert of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois granted in part the EEOC's motion for partial summary judgment, holding that the NCT did not indicate the Claimants' contemporaneous inability to perform the chipper job, but only a prospective, future threat to their health if they were to perform the job.
This ruling illustrates that employers must be careful not to make hiring decisions based on the potential of future medical injuries.
Amsted employs "chippers" to finish the surfaces of the steel side frames for railcar components. Id. at *3. Chippers use pneumatically powered tools, such as 12-pound sledgehammers, to perform their jobs. The work requires intensive use of the hands and arms, and includes exposure to vibrations. In 2010 and 2011, during a hiring surge, Amsted offered employment to applicants who had the necessary skills and experience, but the offers were contingent on their passing a medical examination and other tests. Id. The medical examination aimed, in part, to determine applicants who were at higher risk of developing CTS, one of the risks of jobs that require intensive use of the hands and exposure to vibrations. Amsted contracted with an outside medical company to conduct on-site medical exams, which included...