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Fourth Circuit Rejects Motor Carrier's Defense in Refusing to Hire Driver Diagnosed with Narcolepsy

    Client Alerts
  • May 18, 2016

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from refusing to hire qualified individuals with a disability on the basis of their condition, if they can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation. Earlier this month in an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina and South Carolina) reversed dismissal of an ADA claim filed by a truck driver who claims that he was excluded from a job based on a positive drug test resulting from medication used to treat narcolepsy.

In Lisotto v. New Prime, Inc., the plaintiff applied for a driving job with the motor carrier defendant. As part of the hiring process dictated under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, the plaintiff participated in a pre-employment medical examination and drug test. During the exam, he disclosed that he had been diagnosed with narcolepsy, and provided a doctor’s note stating that the condition had been controlled through use of a prescribed amphetamine. The carrier rejected the medication, stating that they would only consider hiring the driver if he used an alternative medication to control the narcolepsy.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant then told him that regardless of the medication switch, he was disqualified from employment due to testing positive for amphetamines. The plaintiff claims that his physician repeatedly tried to contact the carrier’s medical review officer to provide proof of the prescription. After receiving the plaintiff’s ADA lawsuit, the district court dismissed the claim on the basis that he failed to exhaust administrative remedies under FMCSA rules.

The Fourth Circuit reversed this decision and remanded the case. The court determined that the FMCSA rules only apply to situations where the carrier’s and driver’s doctors differ on the applicant’s medical qualification to drive. In this case, the plaintiff claims that he was rejected from employment based on the failed drug test, and not due to any conflict in opinion between the physicians.

Employers are sometimes faced with applicants with medical diagnoses that appear on their face to disqualify them from safety or effectively performing the job. Employers should not give in to the temptation to automatically reject such applicants without performing an individual analysis of the specific medical condition involved, the applicant’s exact capabilities, and the actual risks presented by hiring the applicant for that position. Blanket assumptions about a person’s capabilities or limitations, or decisions made without the benefit of medical evidence can lead to expensive and distracting disability discrimination legal claims.