Woodbridge Corp., a manufacturer of foam padding, used a wrist test to help identify job applicants who might be susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome. If applicants' test results were abnormal, Woodbridge wouldn't put them on the assembly line, but it did consider them for other jobs within the plant.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued, arguing that the tests discriminated on the basis of an applicant's "perceived disability."
But the court threw out the case after one quick look. Reason: The EEOC couldn't show the workers were regarded as substantially limited in the major life activity of working because applicants weren't barred from a broad class of jobs. Woodbridge was screening out only applicants it considered likely to be injured while performing a specific type of job on one line in one plant. (EEOC v. Woodbridge Corp., No. 01-1045, 8th Cir., 2001)
In a separate case, the 7th Circuit recently threw out another EEOC lawsuit on similar grounds. Rockwell International refused to hire applicants for four types of entry-level jobs if medical tests suggested they might be susceptible to cumulative trauma disorders. (EEOC v. Rockwell International Corp., Nos. 00-1897 and 00-2034, 7th Cir., 2001)
Advice: Pre-employment testing can be a smart way to weed out injury-prone applicants. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you can make a conditional job offer, pending the results of a medical exam or test. Make sure the exam is required for all employees entering similar jobs and is narrowly tailored to test the essential functions of the job.
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