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Sixth Circuit Upholds Mandated Use of CPAP Device for Driver With Sleep Apnea

    Client Alerts
  • August 21, 2020

Truck drivers and some related workers differ from other employees in that they are subject to federal Department of Transportation safety rules that require medical examinations and disqualify workers with certain medical conditions. Last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with an employer’s requirement that a driver use a medical device intended to treat one such disqualifying condition.

In Allman v. Walmart, Inc., the plaintiff was a truck driver diagnosed with sleep apnea. As a result, Walmart required him to use a CPAP device while sleeping in his vehicle during long-distance delivery trips. The employee objected to this device as irritating. But after confirmation of the diagnosis, Walmart expanded the requirement to using the machine during all sleep periods. The employee refused, resigned his employment, and sued Walmart under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming disability discrimination and retaliation.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the lawsuit. The court found that Walmart had a legitimate business reason for the CPAP requirement, namely federal DOT rules that would have otherwise disqualified the plaintiff from driving. Refusing to use a CPAP machine was not a protected activity that could be used to form the basis for retaliation.

Employers should generally be cautious over mandating that employees undergo specific medical procedures or use certain drugs or devices. Absent clear business necessity, such demands may be viewed as incompatible with the ADA’s anti-discrimination requirements. However, when the employee’s medical status is mandated by federal or state law, such requirements can be a justifiable condition of employment.