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Drivers ed: Take it up with the DOT first

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A truck driver who is required to maintain U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) certification can’t sue his employer for disability discrimination if terminated without first pursuing remedies through the DOT. Until he’s done so, he isn’t “qualified” for the position and can’t sue for alleged disability discrimination.

Recent case: Jimmie drove trucks for J.B. Hunt Transportation, a job that required a commercial truck driver’s DOT certification. The DOT has a long list of medical conditions that disqualify someone from driving a truck, including heart conditions such as syncope, which is characterized by fainting.

Jimmie took FMLA leave after a fainting episode that followed a coughing spell. His personal physician wanted to eliminate syncope as the cause and ordered further testing.

Meanwhile, J.B. Hunt sent Jimmie to its own contracted doctor, who cleared him for work without knowing about the personal physician’s efforts to eliminate syncope. When the company’s doctors found out, J.B. Hunt suspended Jimmie and eventually discharged him. Reason: The company’s doctor’s now said Jimmie’s DOT certification was invalid.

Meanwhile, Jimmie underwent heart catherization and other treatments, and his doctors said he did not have syncope.

Jimmie sued, alleging ADA violations and demanding reinstatement.

But the court tossed out the case. It reasoned that Jimmie wasn’t qualified for the job because he couldn’t meet an essential function—namely holding a DOT commercial driver’s license. He should have pursued the certification through the DOT appeals process before filing suit. Since he hadn’t done so, he had no case. (Williams v. J.B. Hunt Transportation, No. H-13-2510, SD TX, 2015)

Final note: The ADA doesn’t require employers to ignore safety. For positions that require specialized permits or licenses, disabled employees must meet those requirements. Otherwise they simply aren’t qualified, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

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