Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, applicants or employee whose disabilities present a direct threat of serious injury or harm to themselves or others are not qualified persons entitled to the law’s protections. Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of an ADA discrimination suit filed against U.S. Steel by an applicant denied employment due to a seizure disorder.
In Pontinen v. U.S. Steel Corp., the plaintiff experienced rare but debilitating epileptic seizures. He was cleared by his neurologist to work without restrictions, but subsequently decided to gradually stop taking medication intended to control the seizures. The plaintiff applied for a safety-sensitive job with U.S. Steel. Following an individualized medical examination, the company withdrew the offer of employment based on the safety risks presented if the plaintiff had a seizure while working. He sued, claiming that he was qualified to work, and that he was discriminated against based on unfounded fears over his medical condition.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court said that U.S. Steel complied with the ADA by conducting the medical examination, and by relying on this medical judgment and objective evidence regarding the safety threat. In this case, the neurologist’s release was no longer current due to the plaintiff’s decision to stop his seizure medication. The infrequency of the seizure events was not determinative due to the serious safety consequences that could result.
Interestingly, U.S. Steel partially relied on DOT regulations for qualification of drivers with seizure disorders, even though this position was not covered by those rules. The Seventh Circuit held that the DOT guidelines were relevant to general safety concerns and could be consulted for this purpose.