“Hey, do you remember that guy who applied for the train crew position?” asked Regina, the operations manager.”
“What guy? The one who had a brain aneurysm?” asked Adam, the transportation manager.
“That’s the one,” Regina said, nodding her head. “He’s suing us.”
“I thought that might happen,” Adam said with a sigh, “because we rescinded his job offer after we learned about his medical problem.”
“Exactly,” Regina said.
“I hated doing that,” Adam said. “But with a condition like that, I just didn’t think he could do the job safely. We later learned that he had a bunch of safety problems at a previous job. What’s he accusing of us, anyway?”
“He says we violated the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Regina said.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Adam replied, “but doesn’t he have to prove that he was qualified for the position in order to prevail on his claim of alleged disability discrimination?”
“That’s correct,” said Regina.
“Well, he can’t do that,” said Adam, “because we found out that he caused a train car derailment in a previous job just a year before he applied for a job with us.”
“That’s a good point,” Regina said. “That gives us a chance. We’ll fight this lawsuit.”
Did the company win?
Yes. The company won.
The court ruled that the job applicant couldn’t establish that he was a “qualified individual” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In order to attain ADA protection, the candidate had to demonstrate that he had no work-related safety violations over the past two years.
But he couldn’t do that because he was involved in a train derailment shortly before he applied for the job.
What it means: Check applicants’ histories
This ruling provides more proof of the importance of checking out the backgrounds of job applicants, especially those who could be considered disabled.
If you learn that someone with a disability has had a safety problem in a previous job within that past two years, you can legitimately turn down the person because he or she wouldn’t be considered qualified for the job.
The ADA offers strong protections for people with disabilities, and judges often are sympathetic when a disabled American claims discrimination in the workplace.
But the ADA doesn’t trump basic safety standards, and a job applicant with a recent history of safety problems doesn’t have to be hired under the law in order to maintain compliance with the ADA.
Based on Montgomery v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
(From the Aug. 16, 2021, issue of Transportation Manager’s Dispatch. To start you no-obligation subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)