Risk Management

Court Rules against Disabled

High Court reduces risk of not hiring a disabled worker for whom the job could be dangerous.
Stephen TaubJune 11, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court has given employers the leeway, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to refuse to hire or promote disabled workers if the company concerned that the job threatens the employee’s health or safety.

The High Court overturned a lower court ruling regarding a refinery worker who wanted to take the risk of aggravating a liver ailment by taking a job that would expose him certain chemicals.

Justice David H. Souter wrote that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission struck the right balance between protections for workers and employers when it wrote regulations that applied to the case of Mario Echazabal, who worked at a Chevron refinery.

“The EEOC was certainly acting within the reasonable zone when it saw a difference between rejecting workplace paternalism and ignoring specific and documented risks to the employee himself, even if the employee would take his chances for the sake of getting a job,” the court said.

In response to the ruling, the National Council on Disability (NCD) said it was “appalled” by the Court’s decision, according to a statement by chairperson Marca Bristo.

The Court deferred to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules that expanded upon ADA’s definition of “direct threat” to “permit the exclusion from the workplace of people with disabilities that pose a direct threat to themselves,” Bristo’s statement added.

“Men and women in many different professions freely accept work under hazardous conditions every day for reasons that include higher salaries and personal satisfaction,” the NCD said in its statement. “Today the Supreme Court took away the right of people with disabilities to exercise that very same right, simply because of their disability.”

According to the Associated Press, in six cases involving the workplace, the Court has ruled against the worker each time under ADA.